Tuesday 29 September 2015

Lessons of the Web

In this glorious Indian Summer weather, the spiders are making merry. I'm sure we haven't had such abundance and diversity in years. There are webs in every corner and vantage point in house and garden, and when I step out in the morning my face and hair will be instantly draped in filaments of gossamer - not a pleasant sensation in itself, but happy proof that the spiders thrive. What's especially gratifying is the range of types and species  to be seen. It seemed a few years ago that the all-conquering incomer, the Daddy Long Legs Spider, with its lethal free-form web and voracious appetite, would wipe out all competition and establish an arachnid monoculture - but no, the threat passed and spider biodiversity returned. What Daddy Long Legs Spiders I see now are pale shadows of their former fearsome selves, and the big fat-bodied boys are back in charge.
 The spider, tirelessly weaving its wondrous creations, has long been seen as an object lesson ('If at first you don't succeed, try, try again') and is irresistible to poets, good and bad. Among the good might be counted Walt Whitman, who saw in the spider's web an image of the soul - or rather (of course) his soul...

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.

And Emily Dickinson, whose writings abound in spiders and spider imagery. In this poem she sees in the spider's web an image of her own hermetic art...

  A Spider  
sewed at Night
Without a Light
Upon an Arc of
  White –

  If Ruff it was  
of Dame
Or Shroud of Gnome
Himself himself
  inform –

   Of Immortality  
His Strategy
  Was Physiognomy – 

(That's in Dickinson's original layout and punctuation.) She also wrote that 'the spider as an artist has never been employed though his surpassing merit is freely certified by every broom and Bridget throughout a Christian land - neglected son of genius I take thee by the hand'.
 And then there's Kay Ryan who, uniquely, sees the web from the spider's point of view, as an image of the sheer strenuousness of life...


From other
angles the
fibers look
fragile, but
not from the
spider’s, always
hauling coarse
ropes, hitching
lines to the
best posts
possible. It’s
heavy work
fighting sag,
winching up
give. It
isn’t ever
to live.

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