Study Guide Prepared by Michael
of Work and Year Written
"A Noiseless Patient Spider"
is a lyric poem. Walt Whitman wrote the
poem in the 1860s and published it in the 1871-1872 edition of Leaves
of Grass. Leaves of Grass was a continually growing collection
of his work that began with the publication of the first edition in 1855.
The version of the poem on this page is from the 1881-1882 edition of Leaves
of Grass. Click
here to access all the editions of Leaves of Grass published
before his death.
Noiseless Patient Spider" develops the following themes:
The quest, or exploration,
for meaning and knowledge in the vastness of the universe.
Poem as a Metaphor
The courage to venture forth
alone into unknown territory.
The patience to build a
plexus that links one stopping place to the next.
The perseverance to carry
on until the “gossamer thread" (line 8) connects to a goal.
The poem compares a spider
to a human. Each creature tirelessly constructs bonds to its surroundings.
A spider spins silken thread to span a void. A human builds ships, airplanes,
bridges. Sometimes he crosses a void with a telescope (as Galileo did)
or reaches new plateaus of knowledge with a question (as Socrates did)
or a theory (as Einstein did).
The poem contains two five-line
stanzas, the first consisting of one long sentence. The subject is the
pronoun I (line 2), and the main verb is the compound mark'd
(line 2) and mark'd (line 3). The second stanza is one long
group of words requiring I marked to be carried over unstated from
the first stanza in order to make the word group a complete sentence. If
inserted, I marked would occur after And (line 6) or soul
(line 6). The poet achieves a measure of balance between the two stanzas
with the words unreeling and speeding in the first stanza
and musing, venturing, throwing, and seeking
in the second stanza. He also balances isolated in the first stanza
(line 1) with detached in the second stanza (line 2) and vacant
vast surrounding in the first stanza (line 2) with measureless oceans
of space in the second stanza (line 2).
Whitman wrote "A Noiseless
Patient Spider" in
called vers libre, a French term. Free verse generally has no metrical
pattern or end rhyme. However, it may contain patterns of another kind,
such as repetition to impart emphasis, balance, and rhythm. For example,
Whitman's poem uses
mark'd twice (lines 2 and 3), filament
three times (line 4), O my soul twice (lines 6 and 10), and till
three times (lines 9 and 10). Free verse may also contain conventional
figures of speech. Among the figures of speech in "A Noiseless Patient
Spider" are the following:
in line 3 (vacant
line 4 (forth
lines 6 and 7 (stand,
in lines 9 and 10 (repetition of till).
in the second stanza. (The speaker addresses his soul.)
in the second stanza. (The speaker compares himself to a spider.)
in the second stanza. (The speaker compares his soul to a person.)
that compare the bond that the speaker forms to a bridge (line 9),
the attachment he forms to an anchor (line 9), and his exploration
to a gossamer thread (line 10).
Noiseless Patient Spider
From the 1891-1892
Edition of Leaves of Grass
By Walt Whitman
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little
promontory1 it stood,
Mark’d how to explore the
vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament,
out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever
tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my Soul where you
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 ductile3
Till the gossamer thread
you fling catch somewhere, O my Soul.
Land or rock formation above ground level that projects outward toward
Thread, fiber, tendril.
malleable, stretchable; capable of being shaped without breaking
Questions and Essay Topics
a poem in free verse on a subject of your choice.
an essay that depicts yourself or someone you know as ceaselessly musing,
venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them (line 8).
you sometimes feel that you are surrounded, detached, in measureless
oceans of space (line 7)? Explain your answer.
several "gossamer threads" you have flung to achieve a goal.