The Continuity of an Existence

by Jeffrey Hancock


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    In “A Noiseless Patient Spider”, Walt Whitman compares the images of a spider creating a web to catch its prey to his own soul.  In the first stanza, he describes the spider creating its web.  In the second stanza, he begins to describe his own soul searching for something it needs.  Throughout the poem, Whitman is relating the spider to the human soul by showing how both would pursue and capture what they need to continue to exist in this life.

 In line one, “A noiseless, patient spider” shows a spider that seems to be waiting for what it is searching for.  Perhaps it is waiting for a chance to strike at its prey if it were detected in time.  The soul seems to be doing nearly the same thing when Whitman says the soul is “ceaselessly musing” (line 8).  Musing is when someone is pondering about something in silence.  Both images are being described as moving in careful silence.  The spider seems to be planning to trick the prey into being caught.  Perhaps whatever the soul is looking for must be tricked into being caught.  If both were to let their presence be known, their elusive prey may disappear.
 In order for either the spider or the soul to capture its prey, first they both must create a way to trap what they need and trick it into being caught.  “It launched forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself, ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them” (lines 4-5).  These lines are describing the spider while it makes its web.  The poet uses the word “tirelessly” to show that the spider must complete its task of finding sustenance in order to survive.  The repetition of the word “filament” shows how deliberately the spider is creating the web.  These two words show that it must not be affected by anything else in its environment because this may cause it to loose its prey.  The words “launched” and “speeding” could mean that the spider must act quickly in order to catch its prey.  The verbs “venturing, throwing, seeking” (line 8) may show how the soul searches for what it needs to survive.  To venture is to do something daring or perhaps something that may involve danger.  “Throwing” shows the soul, much like the spider, casting its lines as a connection to whatever surrounds it in order to find what it is looking for.  “Seeking shows that the soul is looking for what it needs.  Perhaps what the souls is looking for is what it needs to make the person feel complete.

 The poet also decides to describe the spiders’ and the soul’s surroundings.  The spider is seen on “a little promontory” as “it stood isolated” (line 2).  The spider also “Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding” (line 3).  The poet is showing that the spider, though the natural world around him carries on without end, the spider does not notice it.  The spider is isolated by the fact that he is so focused upon obtaining his prey, that he does not care what is going on around him.  In other words, the spider is not detracted from his quest by his surroundings to continue his own life.  The poet then writes that his soul is “Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space” (line 7).  The poet, like the spider, is surrounded by the outside world.  The outside world contains many different ideas and people, but they all may end up as a dead end for his own quest for completeness.  The poet is also detached from the outside world by the need to complete his hunt, much like the spider waiting for his prey.

 The soul could also be compared to a boat in the middle of the ocean.  This direction is comprehensible since the poet uses the words dealing with the ocean such as “oceans of space” (line 7), “bridge” (line 9) and “anchor” (line 9).  The waves could stand for other people and their ideas.  His soul could represent a boat.  The waves may pound upon his boat and send him off course from his destination if it was not for the “bridges” that are made and the “anchor” (line 9) he held on to.  The soul could be holding on to the anchor to try and stay in place against the crashing waves of life.  While he is holding his place in the sea, the “bridge” that the soul needs to its destination could be built.  The poem does not explicitly state that the soul is building the bridge, so the soul of the poet could be holding his place in the sea while the bridge is being  built toward him.  In the sense of Christianity, the bridge could be salvation and the builder could be Jesus Christ.  The destination of the bridge could be heaven and God.  The anchor could be the church and the Bible.  These two necessities are use in order to keep a Christian’s eyes and heart focused upon God.  The spider waiting for his prey is synonymous with the soul waiting upon the arrival of Jesus Christ.  His arrival is said to be quicker than the blink of an eye.  Perhaps the reason why the soul is waiting quietly like the spider is because his coming is supposed to happen very quickly and without warning.  Both the prey and Jesus will allow the hunters to continue with their existence, whether it is on earth or in the next life.

 The statement that perhaps a perfect deity may be building the bridge is further supported when the author states that he is “seeking the spheres to connect them” (line 8).  The sphere is a circular object with no corners.  this is often viewed as continuity or a sign of perfection.  This statement could mean that the soul is looking to find the perfect bridge that is being built in order to connect it and relate it to his existence.  Therefore, the bridge may finally complete his life and bring him into the next.  The “throwing” (line 8) that the soul is doing could be characterized as throwing its anchor over and over again into the sea.  The soul does not want to be lost in the crashing waves, yet he still wants to sail through the ocean to find the pieces of the bridge that is being built.  His anchor will allow him to focus on his quest and avoid the dead ends of this world.

 This poem relates how a spider and the soul are alike in how they search for what will continue their existence.  For the spider, it is waiting patiently as he tries to find a way to trap his prey in order to continue its life.  As for the soul, it must be patient and hold on to what it knows as religious truth as it waits to be nourished by the one that it truly serves.  Both the spider and the soul must hold onto their anchor in order to wait for their prey.  Once it is spotted, they must move quickly to it in order to ensure that they catch it.  Once it is within their grasp, their existence may continue.  But, if they are sidetracked by what goes on in their immediate surroundings instead of concentrating on their prey, then they may lose their opportunity for life.  That is why the spider and the soul must be patient, noiseless, and ever ready to obtain what they have hunted for so long.
 


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Prepared by Kim Buchanan.
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