Walt Whitman published A Noiseless Patient Spider (778) in 1891 and uses vivid imagery in every line to depict the story of a spider the author sees. This paper will explore the poem line by line to discuss how Whitman uses imagery and metaphor to convey deeper meaning.
In line one, Whitman begins his use of imagery as he describes the spider as “noiseless” and “patient” (1). These words seem to be used to establish a somewhat somber tone, as the spider has no noise, which in the context of the entire poem, seems to mean the spider has no voice or no impact on his surroundings, which is a dark thought.
Whitman describes the spider’s surroundings in relation to his own by stating that the spider stood on “a little promontory” (2) and had a “vacant vast surrounding” (3). These two lines are used to establish the setting and tone through imagery. Whitman’s imagery is one of diminutive loneliness as the spider sits on a little place with vast surroundings, therefore leading the reader to believe the spider is just a tiny little speck in the author’s world.
Furthermore, this imagery is used throughout these first three lines of the poem to indicate the author’s own feelings of loneliness and isolation. It almost feels as if the author is writing about himself and using the spider as a stand-in for his own character. In line four, Whitman uses imagery to detail that the spiders “launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself” (4) leading the reader to wonder whether or not the spider is real, a figment of the author’s imagination, or the author’s own mind. The most logical option seems to be that the spider, along with the poem itself, is poetically used to describe the author’s mind and the filaments it is launching are bits of the author’s creative fuel he constantly puts out into the world. After launching his creative work into the world he often feels lonely and disconnected; the filaments just aren’t connecting. It seems as if the author is exhausted of “ever tirelessly speeding them” (5).
This vivid imagery of disconnected loneliness is continued in lines seven and eight when he says, “And you O my soul where you stand, surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space” (7-8). At this point is seems clear that the spider is a metaphor for the author’s mind and being, seemingly lost in “measureless oceans of space” (8). Whitman seems to want so desperately to find his place in these vast oceans of space surrounding his life as he is “seeking the spheres to connect them” (10).
Through this imagery, the tone of the poem comes off as pessimistic and a bit somber, but at closer look it might be seen as an optimistic view of the vast surrounding in that there are choices and options and the world. It is difficult to pinpoint which exactly it is, either optimistic of the choices or scared of the realization that the world is so vast. The author’s own artistic struggle seems to be conveyed further as he describes the spider as “ceaselessly musing” (9). It’s as if the spider works tirelessly to spin beautiful webs without recognition or connection to anything substantial, which is the perfect imagery for an artist.
As the poem goes further Whitman continues his vivid imagery to convey a sense of story by ending the poem with a simple, chilling line, “O my soul” (14). The simplicity of this line is jarring because it is so on the nose. This ending is written in a way that is a statement, almost a cry for help to his own artistic soul as he desperately tries to find a connection.
It is interesting that the character the author chose to write about is a spider, as they are seen as being simultaneously good and bad; they are good in that they devour insects in their webs and bad in that they are seen as scary and dangerous to human beings. This dual persona perfectly embodies the mind of an artist as they create work for audiences to devour and enjoy but at the detriment to their own happiness, as the life of an artist is often lonely and noiseless. The physical characteristics of the spider are also both good and bad, as the spider is noiseless and small but also strong, as it possesses the ability to destroy insects and other bugs with ease.
In regards to form, Whitman wrote A Noiseless Patient Spider in free verse, with pattern or rhymes to the lines, therefore adding to the overall effect of the poem feeling a bit aimless in tone and meaning. Whitman also makes use of alliteration a few times, most notably in line three with vacant and vast, and in line four when he uses the word filament three times in a row; his use of filament seems to use repetition to stress importance.
In conclusion, the spider and the author continue to spin webs, both literally and figuratively, trying to establish a connection or a firm ground somewhere. Both are noiseless, patient and lonely. The poem reads as an exposition into the mind of an artist as he tries to convey his feelings through imagery and metaphor; the only way he seems to know how to convey this imagery is by personifying a spider and using his gentle, yet strong skill of spinning webs as a metaphor for his own life. Both the author and the spider will continue to spin their webs until they catch somewhere in their vast oceans of space, whether that be physical or emotional.
Whitman, Walt. “A Noiseless Patient Spider.” Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 22 June 2015.