How does the speaker perceive the world in "A Noiseless Patient Spider," by Walt Whitman?

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Walt Whitman's poem, "A Noiseless Patient Spider," the spider's world is seen as a microcosm of the "world at large"—the speaker's world. Whitman's concentration on an aspect of nature it not at all unusual for this poet.

The speaker watches a spider that he personifies: it is "patient." He introduces this idea to describe how the spider works in his small world on an isolated "promontory." The spider's patient focus is on throwing out his strands of webbing to connect to another spot so that he can explore it. The constancy of his work is evident in the repetition of the word "filament," and "ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them."

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.

In the next stanza, the speaker addresses his "Soul." He compares the work of the spider to his own labors. Instead of throwing out filaments, however, the speaker—surrounded by "oceans of space," as is the spider—notes that his Soul is throwing out its thoughts to better understand the world: with the same sense of repetition that the spider displays, in "ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing"—his thoughts until, like the spider, he finds a way to connect the spheres with a bridge he has built from his mental exploration of the world.

The speaker entreats his Soul to continue its work, until its "gossamer thread you fling" (a thought tossed out), catches "somewhere."

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.

The parallel between the spider and the man simply compares two situations that differ in dimension and the physicality of the two "beings:" one an insect, the other a man; both face worlds to them that are enormous in scope, and both are driven to understand the world of which they are a part with tireless effort.


lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Whitman's poem, "A Noiseless Patient Spider," the speaker preceives the world as a separation of spheres which can only be connected by the inner gossamer threads that must be flung out of man.

According to the speaker, his soul needs to be connected and anchored.  Ironically, the connecting device is within man. It is not a outer device.  The threads of hope are found within a man's soul.   A man need not look far to find a connecting force.

Ironically, the connecting device is simply made, and is a sheer thread that offers hope to the soul who needs to make a connection. The speaker feels that there is hope if only the spheres can be connected.

The speaker learns from the spider that connecting is within man's own realm which begins inside his soul.  That is where the gossamer threads originate and are flung out to connect to the elements of a "measureless ocean of space." The speaker needs this conncection as much as a spider needs to connect to outer elements.  The connection is for survival, both for the spider and man.


Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question