afterlife · Decoding Poetry · writing

‘A Noiseless Patient Spider’; Whitman flings his soul somewhere

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‘A Noiseless Patient Spider’ (1881) delivers a powerful, two stanza poem comparing the body and soul to a spider and its web. The speaker of the poem. After two readings it appears that the Spider=Speaker’s Body and its web=Speaker’s Soul. We will also look at language, symbols, and tone/mood. Check out the poem below:

A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul(by Walt Whitman 1819-1892)

***

Objects and Symbols

*A Spider

*The Soul

*A Bridge

There may be more objects you spot, but the poem’s title mentions a spider and the Speaker seems to be observing this little creature closely. The Speaker then says, “Oh my Soul…” in the second stanza which has some significance which we’ll explore later and finally there is the mention of a bridge being needed which will be formed in due time.

*Language/Rhyme

Here is where we get to more meat and potatoes of the poem, where the flow of the words and their positioning gives juicy meaning. Remember, this is what I gleaned from my reading, it may not necessarily be what you discover.

*”Noiseless, Patient”(line 1-slant rhyme)

*Mark’d…mark’d(lines 2-3; repetition)

*Vacant, Vast(line 3-alliteration)

*Filament, filament, filament(line 4-repetition)

*measureless oceans(line 7- slant rhyme)

*”Ceaseless musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect with”(line 8-9- ‘ing’ sounds-end rhyme)

Plenty of slant rhyme and repetition. Slant rhymes are families of words that are not “whole rhymes(like “cat”-“hat”) but have endings that almost rhyme in sound. Like noiseless and patient- hear the “ent” sound? Also the repetition have a particular wave to it. Think of what a spider does. A spider throws out its thread, seeming never-ending and so of course there will be repetition here as the Speaker tries to establish a rhythm similar to a spider sitting and tossing its thread.

Then we come to the Speaker’s comparison of his/her body to a spider and its web. Lines 6-7 mirrors line 4.  Check it out:

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;(line 8)

It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;(line 4)

Tone/Mood

In Line 8 the human being has its soul tossed from it and it seeks its source. This could be Heaven. In line 4, the spider throws out filament after filament, seeking what it may catch and hold on it. Now, this poem can have double meaning. I am speaking of the afterlife but what if it’s about venturing out on one’s own to discover what is out there?

The speaker seems to moan, “Oh my soul” a couple of times in this poem. The Speaker cares about this unseen property in the body and the Spider is an object he/she can properly compare it to. I can’t say the poem is sad, but the Speaker is seeking something.

After your reading, is the Speaker sad? Ambivalent? Joyous? Or other?

I love responses! 🙂

*Key Terms*

Promontory-a high piece or point of land

Filament-a single thread or flexible thread

Gossamer- film of cobwebs

Ductile-capable of being drawn into wires

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2 thoughts on “‘A Noiseless Patient Spider’; Whitman flings his soul somewhere

  1. I think the tone is contemplative. The speaker/poet could be describing his search for meaning in life or the process of exploring the world as poet – bringing meaning to the mundane. The poet’s life is filled with “musing, venturing, throwing, seeking spheres to connect [vast oceans of space]” attempts to make sense of his surroundings, ’til bridges are formed – ideas communicated.

    1. Great observation Janinedavidge!

      As a poet and writer, just establishing a poem that cracks the heart of the reader takes soul searching and it can be daunting. Thanks for the feedback!

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