When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
There is a second allusion to Walt Whitman that Gilligan uses and that is the poem, Gliding Over All, which is a title of one of the episodes.
Gliding o’er all, through all,
Through Nature, Time, and Space,
As a ship on the waters advancing,
The voyage of the soul — not life alone,
Death, many deaths I’ll sing.
James Bowman, scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, writes:
The many deaths that weigh on Walt’s soul may have their due in the end, but the one Death, that which was always ahead of him, certainly will. It was his encounter with the reality of his own death — his cancer diagnosis in the show’s first episode — that breaks him bad. That a confrontation with mortality should lead a man of science to abandon the world of Enlightenment values for the honor culture of the criminal lifestyle is strangely fitting. For although modern philosophy, politics, and everyday life are largely oriented toward the defeat or delay of death, the rational man of science can ultimately only think of his own death as the disincorporation of his material self, followed by incomprehensible void.
Death, if not any better understood in the honor culture, at least has a clear place carved out for it there: it is something that there are uses for, there are consolations from, and there are things worse than. Enlightenment science can account for so much of what we see in the natural and social world, but as Walt learns, there are mysteries that still defy the rational mind. Living with these mysteries, not least the mystery posed by our own confrontation with nothingness, means looking beyond the rationalistic Enlightenment vision of the world arrayed in its proofs and figures, charts and diagrams, to other, more primitive sources of wisdom.
Read Bowman's whole piece here: Criminal Elements