The Poem

“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.

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”...

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Forms and Devices

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 action that is occurring: the soul perpetually casting forth, anticipating a connection with heaven.

In this instance, much of this sensation of waves laving the shore is achieved by the poet’s use of alliteration of the sibilant s, making up 28 of the total 140 syllable sounds in the poem. This marriage of sense and sound occurs often in Whitman; equally effective in this poem is his simulation of casting: “Forth filament, filament, filament.”

In a letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson (August, 1856), Whitman spoke of poets “walking freely out from the old traditions”; he became the forerunner of such innovation through his rejection of conventional subjects, language, rhythm, and rhyme. Yet his preference for open verse, although unorthodox, provides, surprisingly, plentiful evidence of his frequent reliance on traditional uses of repetition.

One such reiterative device is...

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