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There are many analyses of "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer," an 1865, single-stanza, free-verse poem by the great Walt Whitman. You can go to the link and read the poem in less than thirty seconds. Most analyses - perhaps every analysis - I've read have described it as rejecting bookish knowledge in favor of life's wisdom, but I disagree with such a banal interpretation. In fact, if this was Whitman's "intent" when he wrote the poem, I disagree with Whitman himself. There are two people in the poem: the writer (speaking in first person) and the lecturer, and I propose that the poem isn't a criticism of the lecturer, but rather a celebration of what went into the lecture. Yes, you can reject all academia, and appreciate the simplicity of nature without the physics behind it, but you can also appreciate physics - not as some boring, obligatory use of calculus, but the actual mathematical definition of the way the universe works - and once you see the actual universe, and link the two together, you'll have a newfound appreciation for the science that attempts to describe it all. The writer, who grew ill at the lecture, had an awakening once he realized what the lecture was about - surely this wasn't the first time he ever looked up at the night sky; his catharsis was a newfound appreciation of the engine that was driving the lecturer.
I mentioned in the "who ya drinkin' to" thread that I wanted to raise a glass to Abraham Lincoln on the 150th anniversary of his death, which is today. Which I have done, and which I do now: Here's to you, Mr. Lincoln. I also mentioned that Lincoln is the only U.S. president that I get emotional about. Which I do. He is the secular saint of our American history, the martyr who gave his life in service to the ideal of the American union and whose service ensured its survival. He is one of my very few heroes, maybe really my only one, besides Julia Child. Lincoln gave what I think was probably the greatest political speech ever given in English, on March 4, 1865, a few weeks before a traitor snuffed out his life and deprived us of the wisest soul we had to guide the nation through the aftermath of our greatest national trauma. Mr. Lincoln said this: Fellow-Countrymen: At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured. On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war"”seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came. One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.