The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489

“A Noiseless Patient Spider” is a short poem, its ten uneven lines divided into two stanzas of five lines each. The initial focus of the poem is a spider that is being observed by the speaker. The use of the indefinite article “a” in the title and the first line individualizes this arachnid, separating it from the representative mass and emphasizing the personal nature of its efforts. The adjectives “noiseless” and “patient” anticipate the poem’s tone of pathos.

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This poem is written in the first person, which is typical of lyric poetry; less common, however, is that the speaker directly addresses and converses with his own soul, which occurs in the second stanza. The reader observes the one observing (the speaker), the one observed (the spider), and the one addressed (the soul).

“A Noiseless Patient Spider” begins with a description of a common and relatively insignificant incident: A spider, all alone on a little promontory, quietly and tirelessly casts out web-threads from its spinnerets into an illimitable, inestimable emptiness that is all it can see; quickly, untiringly, continuously, it attempts to examine and define this significant, palpable unknown that binds it. In this first stanza, the speaker, a seemingly dispassionate viewer of this scene in nature, is almost indiscernible, the only reference to his presence being the words “I marked.”

The designation that the spider “stood isolated” makes clear that its continued launching of filaments is a personal endeavor, its location on a promontory, as opposed to the plain, adding a dimension of precariousness. The description of the filaments emanating “out of” the spider “itself” makes clear that the process is innately creative; the metaphor of the web intensifies the action by conveying ambiguity concerning success.

In the second stanza, the poet transfers his focus from nature to humanity: In the pantheistic tradition, the experience of the spider becomes a metaphor symbolizing the soul’s quest for the unification of earthly and heavenly existence. Directly addressing his own soul, the persona visualizes in the spider’s action a reflection of the pathetic yet heroic struggle he is waging to find immortality. The sense of human insignificance is monstrous. The speaker is imprisoned, “surrounded” by the barrenness, yet alienated, “detached.” The unknown vastness is palpable: “oceans of space.” Intimidated by the gulf between life and what follows, the soul stands “Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them.”

The instability of the situation is confirmed by the soul’s attempts to “anchor,” and the improbability of success is made explicit with the confessed ignorance of the destination, which is identified only as “somewhere.” The means available to effect a connection is also less than encouraging: A silken thread seems much too fragile to form an eternal bridge. The poem concludes without resolution, leaving only the lingering image of the soul casting forth its gossamer threads, with the persona’s final “O my soul” sounding like a cry.

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 564

In another poem, “Had I the Choice,” Walt Whitman expresses a special preference for the ability to convey the “undulation of one wave” and asks the sea to “breathe one breathupon my verse,/ And leave its odor there.” “A Noiseless Patient Spider” (like numerous other poems) communicates indirectly this sound and sense of the sea. In the lines “And you O my soul where you stand,/ Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,” the poet simulates the flux and reflux of the ocean, simultaneously communicating the motion of...

(The entire section contains 1221 words.)

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