“The Cobweb” appears in Raymond Carver’s 1986 collection of poems, Ultramarine, for which he received Poetry magazine’s Levinson Award. The title of the collection comes from the book’s epigraph, lines from Irish poet Derek Mahon’s poem, “Mt. Gabriel,” included in his collection, Antarctica:
Sick with exile, they yearn homeward now, their eyes
Turned to the ultramarine, first-star-pierced dark
Reflected on the dark, incoming waves.
“Ultramarine Blue” is also a color listed under the section titled “Palette” in the second poem of the book, “What You Need for Painting.” The title underscores the importance of both sky and sea as symbolic images appearing throughout the collection.
Carver is known for his storytelling, and he tells a story in this poem, albeit a short one. Carver’s speaker, a thinly veiled version of Carver the author, recounts an experience in which he walks into a cobweb and then brings it back into his house, where he muses about it and reflects on how it, like life, is fragile. It is a brief poem, only thirteen lines, and written in short, choppy sentences, with a rhythm closer to prose than poetry. A meditation on his death and his own mortality, the poem is significant, for it was written only a few years before Carver succumbed to cancer in 1988. More than likely the poem was written in Port Angeles, Washington, at Sky House, the home of his future wife, Tess Gallagher. Carver spent a good deal of time there during the mid-1980s writing poems and stories.