Dickinson does not shy away from critters that make others squirm. In that sense, this poem recalls “A narrow fellow in the grass.” But it’s quite different, aside from taking on a subject that squicks out many people.
The first stanza establishes the spider as an artist. The speaker goes on to argue that the worth of the spider is proved by brooms and those who wield them. It’s a fun little tongue-in-cheek moment–the playful side of Dickinson that is often present but that doesn’t seem to get as much attention as the angst because angst is Serious Literary Business.
The final image of Dickinson taking the spider by the hand is similarly playful, and her final epithet for the creature is marvelous–“neglected son of genius.” This is some much-needed spider appreciation, and I am here for it.
I love this poem. It’s not one I’d ever encountered before. I’m finding as we progress through this project of a Dickinson poem a day that it’s the poems I’ve never heard of that strike me most. It’s not just because they sound fresh to me–I think it’s because they’re a bit quirkier or more philosophical or less easily categorized than her poems that are most commonly anthologized.
This poem strikes me as brilliant, and as part of a much larger trend that runs through many of Dickinson’s poems. This isn’t the first of her poems I’ve read this year that attempts to express the inexpressible–not in terms of pinning it down, but in terms of recounting the human experience of dealing with the knowledge that there are thoughts, emotions, ideas that we will never be entirely capable of articulating.
One of my grad school professors said during a lecture that thought is impossible without language. I disagree, and I think Dickinson would, too. This poem is proof. She’s found the phrase to every thought–except that one tricksy one that keeps eluding her. The second stanza, with its juxtaposition of abstract words with paint colors, seems to expand the argument–can we really express anything accurately via our art?
There’s perhaps no point in attempting to express the inexpressible. What Dickinson does is express what it feels like to stand in the face of that chasm in her knowledge. I love, too, that she includes a prompt in her own poem, a question to the reader. How would yours begin?