Poet's Pick April 22
Walt Whitman: "A Noiseless Patient Spider"
Selected by Jon Loomis
National Poetry Month 2016

Letter from the Editors

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Jon Loomis's Poetry Month Pick, April 22, 2016

"A Noiseless Patient Spider"
by Walt Whitman (1819–1892)

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.


* Jon Loomis Comments:
So much to admire here—first, the wholly original extended metaphor; the soul's journey like the spider's and vice versa.  Imagine what writers and readers of more conventional religious verse in late-1800s America would have made of this. The observation of the spider's study of its surroundings.  The launching and repetition of "filament"—such a great word choice here; Whitman liked it, too, and gave it to us three times.  The entirely unexpected turn after the stanza break, taking us into "Song of Myself" territory with "O my soul."  The idea of our human smallness within the vast universe (no bigger than a spider, in that perspective)—this is in "Song of Myself," too.  Whitman's thinking about what it is, maybe, to be human: ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, and so forth. And then the sublime gesture of that last line—there we are, alone in the vastness, flinging our gossamer threads, hoping they stick somewhere.  I don't think I've ever used the verb "fling" in a poem, but now I really want to.

Jon Loomis:
Jon Loomis is the author of three poetry collections: Vanitas Motel (1998, winner of the FIELD prize in poetry), The Pleasure Principle (2001) and The Mansion of Happiness (forthcoming in September 2016), all from Oberlin College Press.  His work has appeared in numerous journals, including Poetry, FIELD, The Gettysburg Review, The New Republic, and Ploughshares.  He is also the author of three mystery novels set in Provincetown, Massachusetts: High Season (2007), Mating Season (2009) and Fire Season (2012), originally from St. Martin’s/Minotaur, soon to be reissued on Kindle Direct.  High Season was named a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, and was among the Washington Post Bookworld’s “Best Books of the Year” for 2007.  Loomis is currently at work on a campus comedy—a novel which is likely to get him in a lot of trouble.  He is an education dispensing unit at the Western Wisconsin College of Mortuary Science and Hair Design, and lives with his wife and children in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

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