Walt Whitman has written some of the most impactful and memorable poems. “A Noiseless Patient Spider” is a title for a poem that would pique anyone’s interest.
This poem is one such literary creation that can never lose its relevance. No matter what the age is, it connects so well with the readers because of how relatable it is.
“A Noiseless Patient Spider ” takes one of the most common and ubiquitous human conditions and presents it in comparison to that of a spider.
While it may not be obvious at first, you’d be shocked to find the semblance.
Let’s look at the poem first, and then the trademark Word Sum Literal Translation of the poem for the people who want to understand the poem in a hurry, and then we’ll dive deeper into the complex meaning of the poem.
A Noiseless Patient Spider by Walt Whitman
A noiseless patient spider, I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated, Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding, It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself, Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them. And you O my soul where you stand, Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space, Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them, Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold, Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
I saw a noiseless patient spider
standing on a slightly elevated space all alone
To mark the vacant and unknown surrounding around it
It launched filaments of threads all around it, one after the other
It kept launching the threat without getting tired or showing any signs of stopping.
And you, my soul where you stand
you are detached from anything concrete, surrounded by a measureless ocean of space
You muse, seek things, imagine, venture into thought, try to connect the spheres
Doing it all until a bridge is formed, or perhaps the achor stops in one place
or the netted threat catches somewhere, o my soul.
Meaning of the Poem
Analyzing the poem by each stanza will not bring any sensible meaning. The poem only makes sense when the following stanza is read in context with the preceding stanza.
Whitman creates two scenarios that are very different and then shows the astounding similarity between the two.
In the first stanza, Whitman talks about how he saw a spider, all alone in the vastness of space standing on an elevated surface. The spider is not aware of what its surroundings have. It is curious, but also cautious.
As the spider stands alone, it keeps reeling out threads and launching them all around it so that it can grasp onto something, and perhaps move ahead. it is ceaselessly trying to figure out where it should go.
The Similarity of Soul
Now that we know what the spider was doing, Whitman says that there is an interesting similarity between the solitary spider and the human soul. He is talking about his soul but we can all relate.
Whitman says that the soul is all alone, detached from everything else, surrounded by oceans of vast space.
It is implied that the soul cannot see what is around it. All it knows is that there must be something around.
Just like the spider is launching the strings, the soul also casts lines to get a hold of something. This point is where we understand the complexity of the message behind the poem.
The soul is ceaselessly musing, imagining, seeking, venturing into thoughts and ideas, doing all it can to connect the spheres. Trying to do something to move ahead, to get an idea of things.
Just like the spider, the soul is also tireless and patient. It keeps looking for something it does not even know. Now we come to the subjective part of the poem.
The Most Important Part of the Poem
The last two lines of the poem are the most important and impactful lines. There are three things suggested by Whitman that the soul seeks to do.
Depending on the needs and the person, any of the three might be relatable to the reader.
Till the bridge, you will need to be formed
This part shows that to the soul who wants to be somewhere, to reach a place is just doing all the venturing and seeking tirelessly to be someplace. People who want to be somewhere or just move ahead in life would want to make a bridge.
Till the ductile anchor hold
This line indicates that the soul is casting an anchor, just like a raft is trying to steady itself, trying to stop drifting so that it can be in one place. It is for people who want some stability in life.
Some people are just floating in space without any stability. Their souls are just working tirelessly to cast this “ductile” anchor so that they can just be in one place for a while.
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere
The last and final line is about finding the right thing or person for their soul. Gossamer is the netted film that spiders sometimes create.
Some souls are casting these “nets” in the vast spaces hoping to catch what they want, even though they do not know what they want.
It could mean a person, a job, an emotion, or anything. Whatever someone might feel is lacking in their life, their souls are searching for it ceaselessly.
Theme and Message
The theme of the poem is very clear; the soul of the poet (and many readers who will find the poem relatable) is in a place where it has no idea where to go or what to do.
Just like the spider spinning threads and launching it everywhere just to understand its surroundings, the poet’s soul also needs to know if there is anything or anything that it can connect to.
Whitman’s soul, like many others, is stranded in this place where all it can see is the vastness of space. There is nothing concrete that it can hold on to.
The essence and message of the poem are that with all our imaginations, our musings, and our attempts at seeking we try to get somewhere, be someone, meet somebody, or just be stable in a place.
Our souls just want to know where it is and where it can go.
Let’s take a look at all the literary devices in the poem “A Noiseless Patient Spider.”
Metaphor: While the first stanza of the poem has no metaphors, the second stanza is filled with them. Here are some examples:
And you O my soul where you stand is a metaphor meaning the internal, emotional condition of the poet.
Measureless ocean of space is a metaphor that does not mean literal space, but the loneliness of the soul. It indicates that the soul has no idea where it is.
Till the bridge, till the ductile anchor, till the gossamer are all examples of metaphors.
Rhyming Scheme: There is no rhyming scheme in the poem and there is no structure here as well. “A Noiseless Patient Spider ” is a free verse poem meaning the poem flows freely without any defined structure.
About the Poet
Walt Whitman is known as the face of American poetry, after Robert Frost. Whitman is the pioneer who popularized free verse poetry.
“A Noiseless Patient Spider” is arguably not the most poetic name for any poem, and there is a reason for it.
This poem was originally written as a part of another poem named “Whispers of Heavenly Death.” It is the case with Whitman’s poetry that you will find many of his short poems to be a part of a much longer poem.
Take a look at some of the related poems that you might find interesting: