Download The Cobweb Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(Poetry for Students)

“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.


(Poetry for Students)

Lines 1–3
“The Cobweb” is a disarmingly simple poem written in free verse. Carver relies on the rhythm of sentences, rather than any fixed meter or rhyme scheme. Because Carver’s poems, especially his later ones, carry a good deal of autobiographical information in them, knowledge of his life increases a reader’s appreciation of the poem. The poem could be set anywhere near water, but from Carver and Gallagher’s essays, letters, and other writings released after his death, Carver fans know that the poems were written in Port Angeles, Washington, in a house near the water. When the speaker steps onto the deck and says, “From there I could see and hear the water, / and everything that’s happened to me all these years,” readers understand that he’s referring to the difficult and painful life he had while a struggling writer and an alcoholic. Carver is using “seeing” in this instance figuratively. This means that he cannot literally see his past but that the setting and the time that has passed have provided him a perspective from which he can better understand how far he has come and how much he has changed.

Lines 4–6
In these lines, Carver employs short, declarative sentences describing the weather. The “hot and still” air and the quiet evoke a feeling of emptiness and calm, suggesting the speaker’s own reflective state of mind. Leaning into a cobweb underscores the fact that he is paying more attention to what is happening inside of him than outside. Cobwebs can be symbolic of confusion, of being caught in something from which one cannot escape. Once the image is introduced, readers expect more information about it.

Lines 7–9
In these lines, the speaker moves inside, itself symbolic of the attention he is paying to the incident’s effect on his own inner emotional life and memory. This is highlighted in the odd statement, “No one can blame me that I turned / and went inside.” Who would...

(The entire section is 898 words.)