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The Spider's Web -- E B White

Guest poem submitted by Emily Cowan:
(Poem #608) The Spider's Web
 The spider, dropping down from twig,
 Unfolds a plan of her devising,
 A thin premeditated rig
 To use in rising.

 And all that journey down through space,
 In cool descent and loyal hearted,
 She spins a ladder to the place
 From where she started.

 Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
 In spider's web a truth discerning,
 Attach one silken thread to you
 For my returning.
-- E B White
Original title: "Natural History"

Years ago, on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac (a daily radio broadcast
of history, culture & poetry), I heard him read "The Spider", by E.B. White.
I'm pretty sure it was called "The Spider"; it may have been called "The
Web". It's about a spider's web that causes the author to think about
attachment and love. It is a beautiful poem and is actually a love poem, I
believe. Either that, or a poem about an obsession. I was trying to get over
an obsessive love affair at the time and so found it very personally
meaningful. But long after getting over that person, I've remembered the
beauty and simple eloquence of the poem. I'd love to see it here.

[I managed to found the poem on the web (nice little serendipitous pun
there), and sent it to Emily - t.]

Yep, that's the one.  Not quite as stunning now as when I heard it, probably
because I'm not broken-hearted anymore, but beautiful anyway. I like it
because it illustrates how we draw so many parallels between our lives and
nature. It's such a human trait to read personal and spiritual meaning into
nature, who is just going along taking care of her own business.

White also attributes all kinds of human thinking and feeling to this tiny
insect: planning (organization), forethought, loyalty. Shows us what's on
his mind, really. I wonder how he is going forth like a spider? Perhaps to
procure the day's sustenance? Or some other, longer journey, that requires
an attachment during his absence? Who is he reassuring with this thread?
Himself or his beloved? Poetically, I especially like the way the last line
of each verse is significantly shorter than the others; I think it makes the
line ring in a much more pronounced, yet quiet, way. Less is more.



Obviously, Donne's great Valediction, which uses a different conceit to
express much the same basic idea: poem #330

35 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Matthew Chanoff said...

To me, nothing by E.B. White about a spider could fail to invoke
Charlotte's Web, his perfect children's book. In addition to his use of
the spider, with it's natural brutality and penchant for making order
out of chaos, I think White makes the same point in the poem and the
book. It's a point about the cyclical nature of things, and the
possibility of transcending the cycles through love (or friendship).

Matt Chanoff

Robert Rich said...


I think the name of that poem is "Natural History." I read it once in
Yankee Magazine and memorized it because I liked it so well.

Robert Rich

Jay Warner said...

The poem Spider's Web (Natural History) was written by E. B. White and published anonymously in 1929. It was written as a love letter to his wife.

viagra online said...

I think this poem is about obsession, I think the poet wanted to show us his face I mean how all of us can be possessive during life, actually the spiderweb is the symbol of this thought.m10m

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