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Shayna Gordon

ENGL 2100

September 22, 2011

Comparative Poetry Essay- Walt Whitmans A Noiseless Patient Spider and James A. Wrights A Blessing Both the discursive poem A Noiseless Patient Spider By Walt Whitman and narrative poem A Blessing by James A. Wright explore relationships between animals, humans, and the non-living world in subject. Both poems question and explore the traditional hierarchy of these entities, and suggest that the groups share roles, feelings, and behaviors. Whitman chooses to do this by celebrating a noiseless, patient arachnids productivity, equating the existence of the spider to his own existence, and his own existence to the spiders existence. Wrights poem differs from Whitmans in that he chooses to use a more dynamic and complex structure, and shorter phrases than Whitmans two-sentence poem. Similarly though, he assigns both non-human action to himself, and non-living action to the ponies. This cross-association acts as both a metaphor for his own spiritual awakening and a suggestion for the merging of non-living, animal, and human forces. Both poems deconstruct the animal-human-natural world hierarchy and suggest a reevaluation of the importance of categorical distinction; both poets do this through their use of imagery, sound, and structure, but Whitman creates a mutual, two-way comparison discursively, and Wright takes a more complex narrative approach that involves three mutualistic entities. In doing so, the poets suggest that spiritual awakening, meaningful existence, and harmony between all may be possible only when one deconstructs these typified barriers. A Blessing demonstrates a reevaluation of typified animal and human roles by using anthropomorphic imagery in unusual ways. While Spider has only one transition, A Blessing follows the speaker and his friend through a highway at twilight, over a

Shayna Gordon

ENGL 2100

September 22, 2011

barbed wire fence and into a pasture. Wright uses mostly kinesthetic images in the poem to take us on the journey to his spiritual awakening found in the last three lines. He starts with the image of movement - we step over the barbed wire into the pasture- that has been stirred by the irresistible twilight darkness covering the pasture and willows. This twilight, or morning darkness, is made more animalistic with the use of the verb bounds (twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.) There is a break then, in the ponies emerging from the willows, symbolizing the authors feelings about this environment and the spirit like animals that will welcome him and his friend. The first sign of animal and nature mutualism is thus represented in the line twilight bounds softly forth on the grass. Bounds in this case is a word that calls associations with a horses long leaping strides. The following line immediately humanizes the ponies, as their eyes darken with kindness. Wright chooses to attribute emotions and feelings to these creatures, in fact he will go on to talk about their strong emotions and how these emotions connect him to them. The ponies come gladly and welcome the poets friend and himself. They can hardly contain their happiness, actually, and display bashfulness when they arrive. Wright uses dramatic humanizing in the sequence of images they ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happinessthey bow shylythey love each other. Such drama immediately positions the ponies in a different role than traditional historical American (the poem takes place around Minnesota) portrayals of horse and human relationships, and this gives the ponies a personality that connects our human understanding with their experiences. Wright continues the imagery, as they begin munching the young tufts of spring, young tufts being possible allusions to horsehair, and a metaphoric mutuality once again between animal and nature.

Shayna Gordon

ENGL 2100

September 22, 2011

The ultimate anthropomorphic imagery in The Blessing however is found in the slender girl pony; Wright describes her as walking, then nuzzling the speakers hand. Her mane is wild on her forehead, like a little girl who has spent her day running around in endless fields. The kinesthetic imagery moves me to caress her long ear reveals more about the speakers reverence and appreciation for this creature. She is delicate, with skin like a girls wrist. The beauty encapsulated in these pictures captivates the speaker; he is completely entranced by her and realizes at once the barrier between him and horse and their oneness, both physically and spiritually. Wright treads this line the entire poem between the boundaries of humans, animals and the non-living, and at the closing of the poem the speaker is overwhelmed with the spirituality of beauty in animal and nature alike. Suggestive in these lines focused on the girl pony is a female reverence, which can explain the feminine or softer sound of these words as compared to the harder b, d, ch, and t sounds preceding these. A link could also be drawn to a female god figure; the inclusion of she is black and white, suggests a yin and yang, or balance, harmony. She carries definite spiritual qualities that transcend the speakers understanding; this contributes to his inability to do anything but feel like he is transcending or will transcend his human capabilities. In fact he says he would blossom if he stepped out of his body. Theres surrender apparent in this image, one that could be connected to surrender to a spiritual force. Maybe the pony is a symbol of a female shaman or goddess, guiding him. Either way, an out-of-body, raised consciousness is what the speaker is left with at the end of this sequence of encounters, and we are left wondering if there is even value in making clear distinctions between pony, ripple or breeze, for the lines blur between all.

Shayna Gordon

ENGL 2100

September 22, 2011

In addition to the rich imagery that offers many different characteristics to both the human speaker and the pony, the structure of the lines of the poem follow this dual or triple consciousness the speaker attempts to explore. There is end stopping at least every other line of the poem. I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms, / For she has walked over to me/ And nuzzled my left hand. The use of commas or periods usually separates lines with cross-type images, whether it is an animal metaphor to describe a natural object, or human metaphor to describe animal. This can be seen regularly for lines 1-20, until the break in the poem happens and the speaker has his realization, where a period follows the line Into blossom. The use of end-stopping throughout the poem establishes a continuity that is being resisted the whole time by the conflicting metaphor descriptors, and by the end of the poem the speaker has very little awareness of the boundary, so having no end stopping at the ends of Suddenly I realize/ That if I stepped out of my body I would break/ Into blossom. serves this well. End stopping follows a relatively consistent pattern throughout the poem, however the length and number of lines varies irregularly, as the speaker experiences new emotions and feelings in relation to the ponies and their environment. There is a single stanza, which adds to the seminarrative quality of this poem. This is a notable deviation from A Noiseless Patient Spider in which line count is equal for both stanzas and each stanza is one sentence. The equivalency of this poem is reflective of the equal give-and-take between speaker and spider; shown in the words Whitman chooses for each stanza. In looking at A Noiseless Patient Spider, the tone is created by structural reflexivity between and within both stanzas and between and within all eleven lines of the poem. The themes of mutualistic support and the value Whitman places on harmony

Shayna Gordon

ENGL 2100

September 22, 2011

between animal, the universe, and human can be more straightforwardly understood and witnessed through Whitmans manipulation of structure than in the narrative A Blessing. First, the stanzas of the poem are equal in line count and line length, with few exceptions. The stanzas are composed of just one sentence; both with five lines, broken up by each line break and carried by commas at the end of each of the five lines. The familiar punctuation that is established by the second stanza serves to establish an equivalent rhythm. The equality and mutualism that Whitman associates between himself and the spider is thus reinforced by the identical end stopping and identical line count. In addition, each lines word count is very similar. For example, lines 2-5 have word counts between 7 and 10, and lines 6-11 have word counts between 7 and 13. This again, reinforces the reflexivity between stanzas, and between lines themselves. Whitmans choice of words and repetition of words and elongated vowel sounds also shape the tone of the piece, being mutual enjoyment (with the spider) or celebration of this idea of personal soul searching; putting your energy out into the world and hoping that it is put to use. Whitman demonstrates transparency in all of his poetry, a quality that is again found in Spider. What better way to create this than with similar sounds and rhythms? Assonance like in Ever unreeling them- ever tirelessly speeding them propel the poem forward as the verbs do the same thing, unreeling and speeding are motion verbs, kinesthetic images that really do launch forth filament, filament, filament. Filaments being metaphors for Whitmans output of energy, and directed into the vacant, vast surrounding. Its clear that Whitman directly compares himself to the spider because of his repetition of words- first the spider stood, isolated;/ .the vacant, vast surrounding,/

Shayna Gordon

ENGL 2100

September 22, 2011

and then in the second stanza O my Soul, where you stand,/ Surroundedmeasureless oceans of space,/ there could not be a clearer reference point between the two. The assonance found in the first stanza unreeling, speeding is found again in ceaselesslyseeking and in the next line need. Whitman also includes apostrophes to take the place of es in past tense verbs like markd, launchd, formd. These words ground the rhythm of the sound patterns he sets, and differentiates completely the present tense gerunds like speeding, unreeling, musing, venturing, throwing, seeking from these past tense verbs by removing the e from their endings. There is an emphasis on the now in this poem; it has the feeling of a thought or observation, just in passing, but still important. The poem is able to operate in this way because it is discursive, rather than the present tense narrative poem A Blessing. Probably the most important link between the two pieces is that of space; both literal space created by the structure of stanzas and lines, and figurative space that is imagined by the words each poet chose. In Wrights A Blessing a complexity is portrayed that transcends the human subject and the human-like ponies, the twilight that bounds or the breeze that moves. The figurative space between each entity is blurred; the reader does not leave the poem with a sense that power distribution need take place in the process of spiritual awakening. Suggestive in the poem is that even the ponies posses positive human qualities AND non-living qualities- as seen in their kind eyes and their rippling with excitement. In A Noiseless Patient Spider Whitman also deconstructs space, but with a more direct structural approach than A Blessing. The equal space between stanzas and lines, balances the poem in the same way that his word choice does. The beauty of both poems is that structure and complex imagery provide a channel for

Shayna Gordon

ENGL 2100

September 22, 2011

commentary about subject matters as serious as spirituality and personal awakening. The personal soul yearnings, the blossoming of enlightenment, are certainly not throwaway topics and I found myself drawn to both works for this reason. In looking at the poets intricacies of word choice and arrangement I found both poems to be uniquely meaningful and relevant.