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Themes

Whitman focuses on this theme about as directly as he can. The first five lines are all about nature. He uses the spider as an example of how things work in the natural world. The second five lines are all about human life and emotions, and how they might compare to nature. By the end, the two worlds are tied together by this metaphor, and they become hard to pull apart.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Does it seem like Whitman is more interested in the spider or the soul? Is the spider just an excuse to talk about something that’s more important? Or, is it the other way around? Or, do they seem well balanced?
  2. Do you hate spiders? Does that make it harder to take this whole thing seriously?
  3. Do you feel like we’re talking about a particular spider here? Do you think this is something Whitman saw, or did he imagine it? What about his language makes you feel one way or the other?
  4. How about the big one: Do you buy this whole poem, and the way it connects the human and natural worlds? Does the spider/soul metaphor seem real and interesting to you, or does it just seem like Whitman is a freak?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

This poem isn’t really about nature at all, except as an excuse to talk about spirituality.

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