Study Guide

A Noiseless Patient Spider Spirituality

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"And you O my soul where you stand" (line 6)

It’s easy to talk about a spider. We all know more or less what they look like, and we see them ourselves. It’s even easy to talk to a spider, even if it won’t talk back. But, what about talking about your soul? Who knows what that looks like? Then, how about talking to your soul? What are we supposed to imagine is going on here? Now, we’re not saying that there haven’t been poems about the soul before, or that these things can’t be done. Just think about what a big shift this is: from a rather simple nature poem into a much bigger, weirder, and murkier world. Like his usual modus operandi, Whitman just jumps right in, taking us from spiders to spirituality in one line.

"Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing" (line 8)

Whether or not you believe in the idea of a soul, the standard concept is pretty familiar. Mostly, it sits there; maybe, it yearns a little, or something like that. But, look at all the stuff that Whitman’s soul does. Not only is it thinking (or "musing"), but it’s going forward ("venturing"), and even getting some exercise ("throwing"), like the spider. It also does all these things constantly, without resting. Here, we get a taste of the spirituality of the poem. It’s unusual, exciting, and constantly active. The spiritual world Whitman describes isn’t quiet and full of praying, but wild and buzzing with movement and work and ideas.

Till the bridge you will need be form’d" (line 9)

This soul needs to be connected. It isn’t a part of the world right now, but it wants to be. Some people think of the soul as forever separated from the world, but that’s not what we hear about here. Or, maybe it isn’t a connection with the world that this soul wants, but something else – like a connection with other souls. But, check out the words in these few lines: "connect," "anchor," "bridge," "hold," "catch." The dream in this poem is that isolation will end, and that the spirit will connect to something outside of itself.

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