A Noiseless Patient Spider Themes
by Walt Whitman

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“A Noiseless Patient Spider” is a poem about loneliness, a common theme in verse. This loneliness, however, cannot be relieved by a pensive memory as in William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” nor is it an emotion emanating from a lost relationship as in Robert Frost’s “Reluctance.” This is a loneliness that grows out of an inherent tendency of the body and soul to attempt to unite with an elusive divine entity in order to gain immortality.

It is significant that loneliness arising from separation from one’s kind is self-generated and voluntary—the spider “stood isolated.” Ironically, “detachment,” which is related to the soul, connotes instead a severing of ties by some force on a higher level; such an unnatural separation generates a compelling inner urgency to reattach and thereby restore access to the immortal circuit. The absence of color in the poetic description intensifies the pathos of the plight of the soul, infusing a feeling that is almost despair.

The sense of skewed proportion is frightening. A minuscule spider, attempting to chart a boundless vacuity with grossly inadequate equipment, becomes a living symbol of the pathetic plight of mortal humanity. The human soul, too, must deal with the unknown. Unlike the spider’s day-by-day spinning, however, the soul’s reaching out is not part of the daily routine: It is an essential, extraordinary phenomenon. The impending premonition of a continued moral crisis is disturbingly inherent in the effort: Everything (immortality) is hanging on a silken thread, which is being tossed tentatively and figuratively into an unidentified, undefined “somewhere.”

In “Song of Myself ” (stanza 50),...

(The entire section is 423 words.)