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Two Spiders, Two Different Meanings
Very few people will contest that Walt Whitman may be one of the most important and influential writers in American literary history and conceivably the single most influential poet. However many have claimed that Whitman's writing is so free form as evident in his 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass and Song of Myself that it has no style. The poetic structures he employs are unconventional but reflect his very democratic ideals towards America. Although Whitman's writing does not include a structure that can be easily outlined, masterfully his writing conforms itself to no style, other then its own universal and unrestricted technique. Even though Whitman's work does not lend itself to the conventional form of poetry in the way his contemporaries such as Longfellow and Whittier do, it holds a deliberate structure, despite its sprawling style of free association. It has been said that Robert Frost was the most popular poet of the twentieth century, and that he was a pioneer in the interaction of rhythm and meter and in the use of vocabulary and inflections of everyday speech. Most Americans recognize his name, and the titles of his more popular poems, but many do not know about him personally, or his childhood. Many of his poems are a reflection of himself and his childhood.
In Robert Frost's poem Design he uses examples of simile and imagery. He evokes many feelings about the appearance of the spider, flower and moth in the poem. As the poem unfolds, all of these aspects come together so you can fully understand the theme of the poem.
The poem begins with a description of a scene. The scene takes place at night (line 12) and involves three characters: A spider, a moth, and a flower. In line one, Frost describes the spider. The spider is like any other, “fat” and “dimpled” (line 1). However, unusually, the spider is white. Atypically, Frost has given a color associated with purity and innocence to the spider. In line two, Frost describes the flower. Like the spider, the flower, a heal all, is given the unfitting color, white. The spider is on the heal-all, holding up a moth, presumably one, which the spider killed. In line three, Frost elaborates on the moth. The moth, like the spider and heal-all, is white. Frost compares the appearance and texture of the moth to satin, a delicate material similar to silk. Satin, usually soft and supple, is described here as “rigid.” This description ties into the death of the moth and the texture of its wings. Given the first three lines, on the surface it seems as though one character is guilty of killing the moth: The spider. However, in line four, Frost refers to “assorted characters of death and blight.” He alludes to the responsibility of multiple characters for the moth's death. Line five clarifies the time. Early in the morning, before the sun has risen, the spider, moth, and flower are ready to begin the day. In line six, Frost compares the situation and its players to “a witch's broth.” Each component contributes to the product. Frost points out the lack of innocence in the entire scene. Frost finishes his description by recounting the individuals involved, the white, “snow drop” spider; the flower, compared to“froth” and finally the moth with its delicate dead wings. Perhaps Frost's use of the word froth is meant to draw the reader back to the witch's broth, or perhaps Frost was simply comparing the multitude of petals around a heal all.
In the second, lines nine and ten, Frost asks why the heal-all was white. He asks what business had the flower to deviate from the normal heal-all appearance. Heal-alls are flowers commonly dismissed as weeds. They grow in clusters and are known botanically as “Prunella vulgaris.” Heal-alls normally have violet petals and are approximately one to two feet high (Jackson and Bergeron). A white heal-all is extremely rare. However, in this situation, the heal-all is white. The color of innocence, the white makes the heal-all stand out from its neighboring peers and, more importantly in this case, the dark of night. Frost uses the word “wayside: to describe the typical location of heal-alls: on the sides of roads. In lines eleven an twelve, Frost, using a rhetorical question, accuses the flower of being an accomplice to the crime of killing the moth. He accuses the flower of first giving the spider a hiding, camouflaging location and raising him to a suitable striking elevation. Second, Frost accuses the heal-all with its unorthodox color, of luring the moth directly to the spider. In the final two lines Frost, here, questions the creator of the situation, perhaps God. He asks if such a design, marked by trickery, deceit, and death is conspicuously evident in something so small as a flower, spider, and moth; this design must be evident in larger things: people and nations. Frost questions the designer's intent. Clearly whoever designed this situation, a minute, insignificant moment, took time to carefully craft an off-colored heal-all, a conveniently camouflaged spider, and a dark night to draw a moth. Perhaps Frost's problem, in this poem, stems from the discrepancy between the creator he observes in this situation and the god that the world reveres. In this poem, we can see Frost's problem with the world. He was not hostile towards society and the world; he simply disagreed with it on certain issues. With the use of literary elements such as imagery, theme and simile it helps up to understand his understanding of his works.
Walt Whitman's “A noiseless patient spider” is a fascinating piece that uses a metaphor to compare the speaker's own soul with that of a spider spinning filament.
In the first verse, the speaker explains that he is observing a spider ever so carefully: “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” (1-5). Rather than having a casual look, the speaker is intently watching this spider, taking note exactly what it is doing. The spinning of the web is so amazing that the speaker almost gets lost in simply watching it. Thus the speaker not only is literally watching a web being formed, but without realizing is metaphorically getting “caught in a web” of thought and awe. More importantly, the speaker is learning from this spider. The speaker marks exactly where the spider stands and pays attention to its isolation. In addition, the speaker writes how the spider accomplishes exploration, and the speaker is almost jealous, wondering how he can imitate it. All that the speaker can do is to jot down: “how to explore the vacant vast surrounding” that the spider is so capable of.
In the second verse, the speaker talks to his own soul before going into a mind-state where he compares the spider weaving a web to the intricate weavings of his soul: “And you O my soul where you stand, / 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 ductile anchor hold, / Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul” (6-10). Note that the spider “stood” firm while the speaker's soul can only “stand”. This is a reflection of how the spider is rooted in its purpose, it knows what its life is about (spinning filament), which is why the speaker laments for his own soul (which can only stand because it is so indecisive, thus it is “detached”).
Another important note is that the spider is as the title states: “noiseless” and “patient.” Meanwhile, the speaker's soul cannot sit still or feel at peace, it is “ceaselessly musing” and “throwing” looking for answers. In addition, the speaker explains that his soul is almost literally caught in the spider's web, because it is “surrounded.” Furthermore, the speaker already explained how limitless the spider's filament was, which is why the speaker's soul is not just caught, but wrapped in both “measureless oceans of space” as well as a “measureless” amount of webbing.
Finally, the speaker sees his soul and the spider as similar. While the spider builds its web as a “bridge” to “hold” itself, the speaker's soul similarly has need of a metaphorical “bridge” that must be “form'd” until it can hold. The poem's last line is also reminiscent of the spider, explaining the “gossamer threads” (webbing) that the soul must “fling” and hope it catches.
Overall, this is an excellent piece. While the speaker's soul shares similarities with the spider, the spider is ultimately the stronger entity. Meanwhile, the speaker can only sit back and watch as he hopes that his soul will someday be able to spin its own “filament” and truly branch out into the world.
There are few similarities between the two poems. The most obvious similarity is that both poems are about spiders. What may not be so obvious is that both poems are written by American writers and both contain only two stanzas. Though there are not many similarities, there are many differences. Whitman's poem has five lines in each stanza; Frost has eight lines in the first stanza and six in the last stanza. A Noiseless Patient Spider does not have much rhyming expect for the last two lines of the second stanza. In contrary, Design rhymes all the way through. The rhyme scheme of Design is a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a-a-c-a-a-c-c. I found out through research, that Whitman does not rhyme much in has writings, and that is what makes his writings so unforgettable (Kyrene.com). Frost's poem is a sonnet. It contains fourteen lines and follows a specific rhyme scheme. I also noticed between the two poems, Frost uses the title of his poem as the last line of his poem, and Whitman uses the title of his poem as the first line of his poem. Why this is so I could not find out, but I do find it quiet interesting.
In my opinion, Frost's poem is more negative that Whitman's. Frost's poems further shows that there is evil in what seems to be a good world (even though the world really is an evil place in my opinion). A heal-all flower was originally thought to process healing qualities so this symbolizes the good things in the world as well as the innocent white moth, and white also symbolizes purity. The white color of the spider disguises the evil of it causing it to fool the innocent moth into its demise. The poem brings light to the hidden evils in the world and that if you aren't careful you can be caught up with them.
Just a quick thing: God designs everything for a purpose and everything has its own season and time to go. Why does God let bad things happen? Because, he wants us to learn from them. One of the moths purpose' is to feed the spider and that's just the order of life.
Jackson, D and Bergeron, K. altnature.com. < http://www.altnature.com/gallery/healall.htm>
Lani.kyrene.com.19 November 2009.<http://www.kyrene.k12.az.us/schools/brisas/sunda/poets/whitman.htm>.
Starve.org.11 October 2002.19 November 2009. <http://www.starve.org/teaching/intro-poetry/design.html>.