About the Poet: Walt Whitman (31 May 1819- March 26 1892), born Walter Whitman, was an American poet and essayist who also dabbled in journalism. He achieved immense fame after the publication of his poetry collection, Leaves of Grass, in 1855. Having worked as a printer’s devil, he had self-published his poetry collection and kept revising it till the end of his time. He continues to be a favourite among litterateurs for his unique outlook. He was a humanist, and swung between transcendentalism and realism in his art. He is called the father of free verse even though he has not invented it, and it is in his poetry that free verse achieves its full potential.
Stanza 1: The poet comes across a solitary spider on a promontory. As we watches closely, the spider secretes its filament to create a web, as if to explore the vacant space around it through the web. The poet here notes the spider’s tireless efforts and he is immediately reminded of his soul and the soul of man in general.
Stanza 2: In the second stanza, the poet is reminded of the nature of mankind by watching the spider. He addresses his own soul as he realizes that it too is trying to explore the endless potential of life. Standing solitary, yet surrounded by the immensity of life, the poet’s soul ventures out of its place, filament by filament, like the spider, and seeks to connect to the outer world, to seize the opportunities offered by life and perhaps attain the meaning he has been looking for.
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.
Noiseless: the adjective is used to emphasize the stillness of the spider.
Promontory: a piece of high land that ends abruptly on one side; a cliff overlooking the water.
Filament: thread, fiber.
And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, 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.
O my Soul: the poet addresses his own soul. He compares the solitary spider to his innermost self, his soul.
Measureless oceans of space: life in its potency and entirety. The words ‘measureless’, ‘oceans’ give a semblance of an enormous spaciousness that is haunting and creates a space in the poem for the imagination to run free.
Seeking the spheres: this line echoes the spider’s web; here it can be interpreted as the various fragments and aspects of life that gives it meaning. The earnestness of the poet’s search is heightened in this stanza and specifically in the next few lines.
Bridge: again, this is reminiscent of a spider’s web which can be read as the various experiences that make up life.
Ductile: malleability of a material; ability to stand pressure or tension.
Anchor: an iron weight used to hold ships and boats in their places; (here) a place one can hold on to.
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