How is "A Noiseless Patient Spider" important as a typical American poem?  Walt Whitman's "A Noiseless Patient Spider"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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For Whitman and his contemporary, Emily Dickinson, poetry became a private observation, and the poem was a personal experience. This type of poem reflects the individualism that is uniquely American.  In addition, such an individualistic act is in keeping with Transcendentalism, a movement begun in America that is concerned with the individual and his/her experience with nature.  And, like the Transcendentalist Emerson, who felt that "nature wears the colors of the spirit,"  nature certainly is integrated with the speaker of Whitman's poem, "A Noiseless, Patient Spider."  Certainly, in adherence to Transcendental precepts, the physical facts of the natural world are a doorway to the spiritual world. For, in Whitman's poem, the controlling metaphor is that like the spider, man, too, finds his realm beginning within himself:

It [the spider] 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, 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.

Like the nonconformist, individualistic ideal of  American Transcendentalism, the spider casts its individual filaments, reaching out to attach itself to another natural force.  Much like the spider who casts forth its "filament," by means of musings and searches for knowledge, the speaker's soul forms a bridge with the "gossamer thread" of its efforts catching somewhere and attaining spiritual knowledge. Certainly, the efforts of the spider are parallel to those  of the soul to live deliberately and to find meaning in the universe from nature, a true Transcendentalist precept, and one uniquely American.

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rozenthalm | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

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Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider”  succinctly expresses the essence of transcendentalism: the understanding that knowledge, especially spiritual knowledge, comes from within the soul of every individual via his personal relationship with nature.  Moreover, Whitman expresses this using his own distinctly American free verse genre,  which broke free of the traditions of regular rhyme scheme, meter, and versification  It was Ralph Waldo Emerson, however,  who introduced Transcendentalism to American Literature and the world, a philosophy which broke with traditional church organization and academic study and promoted  instead the realization that truth and spirituality lie within one’s self, deep seated within one’s consciousness and intuition, and independent of or ‘transcendental’ to logic, doctrine, or empirical observation.  In his seminal essay “Nature” he describes his elevated states of consciousness and sublime realizations experienced during his solitary walks through nature.


In the forth line of the poem “It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself”  Whitman finds expressed in nature the transcendentalist’s belief that knowledge lies within the self and is expressed throughout nature.  Just as the spider is launching filaments from within itself, so the contemplative, or “noiseless, patient” soul is  “ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them.”  Just as the isolated spider waits in the center of its web, so the meditative soul of the transcendentalist is “surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space.” Of course, unlike the spider who is trying to catch prey, the poet’s soul is seeking some sublime and subtle thread of meaning and relationship in the vastness of the universe.

Walt Whitman, with his lines of varying length spontaneously creates his own American meters and verse forms, which though irregular, create patterns of their own as he spews forth his poem. Note, for example, his new poetic device of repetition of words: I mark'd where, Mark'd how; It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament; Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them;  Till the bridge, till the ductile anchor, till the gossamer thread;  The use of the phrase O my soul at the beginning and the end of the second stanza is another novel poetic device, replacing the use rhyme to create enchantment.  And this breaking with tradition, this creating of something new and wonderful, and distinctly personal is clearly an expression of the American spirit.

And Walt Whitman, with his lines of varying length spontaneously creates his own American meters and verse forms, which though irregular, create patterns of their own as he spews forth his poem. Note, for example, his new poetic device of repetition of words: I mark'd where, Mark'd how; It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament; Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them;  Till the bridge, till the ductile anchor, till the gossamer thread;  The use of the phrase O my soul at the beginning and the end of the second stanza is another novel poetic device, replacing the use rhyme to create enchantment.  And this breaking with tradition, this creating of something new and wonderful, and distinctly personal is clearly an expression of the American spiriit.

 

 

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