A Noiseless Patient Spider by Walt Whitman: Summary and Analysis

The poem 'A Noiseless Patient Spider' starts with the repetition of the title as 'A noiseless patient spider' to create an image in the mind of readers. A spider is personified when it is given the human characteristics like noiseless and patient in the poem. The speaker is looking at this tiny creature and wants us to feel about it.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

The speaker of the poem further introduces a spider as a tragic, isolated and separated. Observing the spider more closely the speaker describes the way how the spider explore the ‘vacant vast surrounding’ by launching forth filament, filament, filament’, repletion of the same boring task of making strings.

There is the turning point after the fifth line in terms of the thought in the mind of the speaker. The speaker without mentioning the spider begins identifying his soul within a tiny creature. He comes to ask the question to his soul. He wants to know where his soul stands actually. The readers can see the soul standing on a “little promontory”, like where the spider “stood”. Here, the speaker is trying to give the sense of how very alone his soul is – just like that of an “isolated spider”. But the spider like strings are what the soul is exploring or “seeking” or “venturing” or “throwing” the space. The speaker here tells us that the soul always works and thinks – “ceaselessly musing” – as he says in the poem. Here the speaker finds his soul always venturing, musing, throwing and seeking to connect itself to the vastness of the world. The soul stood isolated there without any connection. The soul will remain in a hang until it catches somewhere. So the speaker suggests his soul to catch somewhere until it finds gossamer threads.

The spider symbolically represents an explorer. It is the quality of the explorer not to get tired while exploring vast surrounding. The explorer, the scientist, or the philosopher is like the spider who stands isolated, but patiently they try to connect themselves with vacant surrounding. For some explorer, search of invisible, unknown and unidentified become the subject of curiosity. Only those people can be successful to connect themselves to the measureless world who work tirelessly, holding patience with them. The poet is trying to idolize an insect spider. Actually, the spider is a symbol for all them who works continuously and are isolated from others.

In the poem the spider has been used as an analogy to refer the restlessness of the human soul. As the speaker noticed, a noiseless patient spider stood isolated on a little cliff to explore the vacant and vast surrounding. It went on lunching filament out of itself tirelessly. It tried to connect those filaments to each other. The spider had vigor, patient, and energetic in speeding his work. These things are the support to the basic philosophy of Whitman as “human soul is immortal and it is always in a state of progressive development”. This very idea of ever developing and expanding human soul is compared with the extended metaphor of “a noiseless patient spider” in the poem.

This poem is linguistically brilliant in its composition. The poem is composed in two stanzas, each containing five lines. The poetic lines are different in their length. The formula of composing the first stanza has been copied in the second one. The use of alliteration, apostrophe, and repetition are the major features in this poem. The poet also comes to ask rhetorical questions.

The first stanza is in the mode of descriptive narration. The speaker centers himself to discuss the spider, which is noiseless and patient. In the third line of the first stanza, we find alliteration in the words /vacant- vast/. Similarly, the technique of repetition is highly valorized in the fourth line. The word 'filament' has been repeated three times to signify tirelessness of the patient spider in his exploration. In the first stanza, the word "promontory" has been used to signal the setting of the spider. The selection of diction is also quite fantastic in the first stanza. The words like 'explore' and 'launch' give the impression of scientific search by an explorer. In such a context, the spider has been symbolically represented as either a scientist or researcher.

The second stanza of the poem is fully meditative. The poet addresses his soul to know its positions. Here the term "surrounded" has been repeated. Similarly, he uses some verbs like 'musing', 'venturing', 'seeking' and 'throwing' to indicate the deeds of human soul. The poem is brilliant for its internal parallelism. The similar words and phrases have been used in the first and the second stanza. Both stanzas come to use the synonymies. Parallelism can be perceived in the words like 'isolated' / 'surrounded', 'vast surrounding' / 'measureless ocean of space', 'tirelessly' and 'carelessly'. Seeing the struggle and attempt of the spider, the poet comes to ask about the standpoint of his soul. Later, the poet suggests his soul to hold the ductile anchor till it needs any bridge for its connection.