Mystical Moist

After writing this post and this one, the phrase ‘mystical moist’ was on my mind. It comes from a poem by Walt Whitman, which is featured in a memorable scene in Breaking Bad.

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.

The context and significance of this scene in Breaking Bad would take too long to explain. However, the build-up to this moment, and the development of the character of Gale (who reads the poem) and his relationship with Walt, are among my favourite memories of this brilliant series.
      The more germane question about the poem itself, which follows from the earlier post, is: does the word ‘moist’, here used (I would argue) before it had such specific sexual associations, generate a significant additional response as a result of its phonetic characteristics, or some other effect contained in the word as spoken and heard? Whitman seems to find the sound interesting, because the unusual pairing ‘mystical moist’ repeats two key phonemes. It’s a key phrase in the poem, because it catches the moment at which the speaker has an affecting experience of the stars. They are distant, and so is the experience of the astronomer’s science. But the night air is palpable, and so is the key adjective. So I think there’s a small corroboration here for the idea that ‘moist’ works unusually along a sensory-sensuous pathway.


The first ‘moist’ post contained a bit of a Youtube glut, but there hasn’t been a proper musical interlude on the blog for a while. Since this is the last post before a shortish Easter break, here is one that will leave you with an impossible dilemma. This is Booker T and the MGs doing a brilliant live version of ‘Time Is Tight’. The question is: which of the four would you like to be in this clip? There are many considerations — great playing, being really into it, headgear, facial hair. You don’t see a lot of Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn but you know he’s loving it. I can’t decide.

E-mail me at rtrl100[at]

2 thoughts on “Mystical Moist

  1. Raphael Post author

    There are no bad choices here, but after thinking about it I’ve realised that for me it’s Al Jackson, Jr. on the drums who lights up this clip.


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