Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul. (Walt Whitman, “A Noiseless Patient Spider”)
(In this second entry in this three-part series, I will introduce both Mrs. Sir Isaac Newton and Mr. Walt Whitman to our conversation on spiders and longing.)
She appeared in the doorway of our deck about five years ago this upcoming September. I never appreciated the arachnids who decided it was their responsibility to decorate the front porch or deck every night and hang there, front legs extended, staring into the house, but I first noticed this speckled and bulbous-bodied spider early in the morning while eating a bowl of cereal.
She was taking down her web. (A courtesy many of the others neglected and I fully appreciated.) Suspended upside down by a wisp, she danced up one silk tendril and strategically selected strands to gather into herself. Recycling, yes, but also eating her own support. Rarely did she slip, and then she caught herself with reflexes so quick and natural it made the fall look more like a forethought. Rappelling, only she was the one holding the other end of the rope.
She seems to know exactly where to go—even though she can’t see the web as I do.
By the third morning, I had named her Sir Isaac Newton. My brother informed me it would have to be “Mrs. Sir Isaac Newton” since her habits were strictly feminine, according to one of the many books he had read.
It wasn’t just her acrobatics I found entrancing, but her routine. Every night around the same time she would put her web out. Every morning she would take it down again. I tried to imagine living life that way—casting a silk strand into the air and flinging my body after it to create something I couldn’t fully see but yet my life depended on it. Hanging by a gossamer strand without a thought of it breaking. And then to have the work destroyed each day. Yet she was so clearly designed for a purpose, and each day, she succeeded.
Then one morning, she didn’t show. A little disappointment, and a little fear, mixed with a tinge of hope. But she never came out again, and I was sad.
Something beautiful had died. Something that reflected the artistry of God. Something that seemed to silently, unknowingly resonate with something about my own soul. Something that created longing.
One of my favorite poets is a man named Walt Whitman, and he wrote a poem that I loved before I fully understood it. It was as if the meaning captivated me before the understanding did.
A Noiseless Patient Spider
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.
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.
(In the third and final part of “Seeking the Spheres to Connect Them,” I’ll dialogue more with Whitman and share about flinging my own gossamer thread.)
Whitman, Walt. “The Noiseless Patient Spider.” Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45473/a-noiseless-patient-spider. Accessed 9 July 2017. Because my copy of The Norton Anthology of Literature doesn’t contain this marvelous poem in the Whitman section.
Photo taken from http://www.weirdomatic.com/building-for-survival.html.