Poetry is the rhythm of the soul. The said notion has often been implied or made particularly evident in the variety of voices and themes which emanate from every lyric of ever poem. Like most art, poetry reflects the sentiments, ideology or persuasions of a poet or artist as he or she is experiencing it, and perhaps, trying to communicate to readers and the rest of the world at a particular point in time. Poetry ultimately and essentially reflects or defines, in crude terms, a piece of an individual.
To American poets Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, this same reality applies. Although both poets emerged and gained significant recognition at the turn of the twentieth century, and both are highly regarded and acknowledged as prominent figures in literature, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson inevitably differ from each other, as evident in their writing and poetry. In Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” and Dickinson’s “A Narrow Fellow In the Grass,” this difference is further affirmed and illustrated.
Where Whitman’s poems are usually stretched and long drawn however, and Dickinson’s is conversely short and seemingly rudimentary, “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” and “A Narrow Fellow In the Grass” departs from both of the poets’ usual mold and routine in terms of poem length and indulges in the opposite. Whitman’s short poem of two stanzas appears to be summed up in the title; and in the initial part of the poem, this is what readers are made to believe. “A Noiseless Patient Spider” begins with his observation of the creature, as he writes “…
It stood, isolated; / It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself; / Ever unreeling them – ever tirelessly speeding them. ” (Whitman). His observation of the “noiseless patient spider” ends with the arachnid engaged in laborious web spinning. The tone of the second stanza shifts abruptly when it pronounces quite beautifully, “And you, O my Soul, where you stand / Surrounded, surrounded in measureless oceans of space, / Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, – seeking the spheres to connect them… ” (Whitman).
The verse picks up from the mundanity and apparent literal observation of a spider as it engages in a seeming routine and rudimentary activity which is to be expected of it. It then turns its focus to the writer’s soul, which exists much like the “noiseless patient spider” in that it tirelessly tries to weave meanings and experiences into being, a characteristic inherent to humanity, and in the human soul’s perhaps cliched quest for reason or meaning. Whitman speaks of the soul’s complex and boundless nature, of the “gossamer thread” which it appears to constitute, in reference and analogy to the poem’s title.
Most of the poet’s writing, disguised, perhaps in crude terms, as “animal poetry” inevitably turn out as odes to humanity, much like “A Noiseless Patient Spider” illustrates. On a similar but nonetheless contrasting note, Emily Dickinson’s “A Narrow Fellow In The Grass,” which recounts the poet’s observation of a snake in a lyrical six stanza poem, could also be conveniently pigeonholed upon initial regard to the crudeness and categorization of “animal poetry,” much like “A Noiseless Patient Spider.
” Of course, Dickinson is able to deliver more than that; although she makes no explicit mention of the word “snake” in her poem, her descriptions regarding the less than favorable animal is evident in the extent of her poem, and her dislike or wariness of it is also expressed. She writes, about the snake, harping on danger and caution, “The grass divides as with a comb, / A spotted shaft is seen; / And then it closes at your feet / And opens further on. ” (Dickinson). The tone which exists in the aforementioned lines is the same sentiment which dominates the entire poem, of a seeming villain afoot and lurking in every lines.
She culminates the poem, perhaps with a playful or serious warning, “But never met this fellow, / Attended or alone, / Without a tighter breathing, / And zero at the bone. ” Apart from the different choice of animal metaphor, words, rhythm, and structure which Whitman and Dickinson incorporate in their writing; in the incensed at times cryptic manner by which Whitman indulges his thoughts and musings, and in the seemingly simple and less flamboyant way in which Dickinson writes her poetry, both poets not only in their approach in writing poetry, but by the sentiment or ideology which their respective poems evoke as well.
While Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider” is not exactly optimistic, but nonetheless evokes a sense of beauty (albeit in sadness), familiarity, and maybe even hope because it muses on the instance of humanity, of the experiences of the soul, which every human being undoubtedly possesses, it affords its readers a different kind of elation, and a type of elevation in one’s spirit; Dickinson’s on the other hand, appears to evoke the opposite. “A Narrow Fellow In The Grass” appears devoid of this effective elation and spiritual elevation in the seeming cynical and skeptical way that it is told.
It perhaps reflects the poet’s dim or pragmatic view of reality and existence as it unfolds to her. Ultimately both poets may not share the same worldview or ideology, and approach to poetry with regads to humanity and existence, but their distinct voices provide readers alternative points of view on the subject, affording individuals poetry in its beauty and variety.
Dickinson, Emily. “A Narrow Fellow In The Grass. ” 7 February 2008 www. online- literature. com/dickinson/824/.
Whitman, Walt. “A Noiseless Patient Spider. ” 7 February 2008.