Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 642
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...
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“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.
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.
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 blame him? There does not appear to be anyone around watching him. Something else is happening to the speaker that he leaves unsaid. If it is perfectly natural to go inside to untangle the spider web, why even mention it?
Once inside, the speaker focuses on the stillness of the day, how windless and calm it is, “dead calm.” It would have to be calm in order for a cobweb to remain intact. Mentioning the weather again is odd, given that the speaker is now indoors. Doing so suggests that the speaker is using the description of the weather to actually comment on his “internal weather,” that is, his emotional state.
The gesture of hanging the cobweb from the lampshade befits a man who is tender and thoughtful. He is not saving a spider; rather, he is using the cobweb as an object on which he can meditate and which can be used as a symbol for his own life.
In these lines, the speaker is inside the house, breathing on the cobweb, studying how it responds to his breath. That the web “shudders” tells readers he must be pretty close to it. Again, Carver uses short sentences, fragments, to describe the cobweb. By using longer and shorter sentences, Carver creates a rhythm suggestive of the sea’s tides, his breath, and the physical composition of the web itself. Its fragility and intricacy also suggest the fragility and intricacy of human life. This comparison is subtly underlined in the poem’s last two lines when the speaker states, “Before long, before anyone realizes, / I’ll be gone from here.” This rumination on death became reality just two years after the publication of the collection in which the poem appears. Carver’s obsession with his own mortality is evident not only in “The Cobweb” but in many of the other poems in Ultramarine.