What is the relationship of denotation and connotation in the poem "A Noiseless Patient Spider" by Walt Whitman?

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Michael Otis | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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One of the component poems of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, "A Noiseless Patient Spider" could be described as a textbook illustration of the relationship of denotation and connotation. The first half of the brief ten-line poem comprises the denotation. In those lines, "noiseless, patient" signifies the literal, denotative, stillness of a spider until it is called upon to feed or flee. There, "filament, filament, filament" launched "out of itself" signifies the web-spinning occupation of a spider.

The second half comprises the connotation. In lines 6-10, the poet creates an association, or analogy, between the spider and his "Soul" that is "Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing" out "gossamer thread" that is a metaphorical yearning to be united in the vast cosmos with a transcendent reality. The word for spider's web in Latin is textus and, to put it differently, the Latin textus is the root for our word text. Thus it could be said the connotation is that a writer 'spins a web of words' to create a textus. In "A Noiseless Patient Spider" the poet weaves the text by which he attains the transcendence he longs for.

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