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Spider and Fly

A stanza-by-stanza analysis of Edward Taylor's "Upon A Spider Catching A Fly."
by

JD Simpson

on 3 November 2012

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Transcript of Spider and Fly

by Edward Taylor Upon A Spider
Catching A Fly The Application The Prayer Thou sorrow, venom elf.
Is this thy play,
To spin a web out of thyself
To catch a fly?
For why?

I saw a pettish wasp
Fall foul therein,
Whom yet thy whorl pins did not clasp
Lest he should fling
His sting. But as afraid, remote
Didst stand hereat
And with thy little fingers stroke
And gently tap
His back.

Thus gently him didst treat
Lest he should pet,
And in a froppish waspish heat
Should greatly fret
Thy net. Whereas the silly fly,
Caught by its leg,
Thou by the throat took'st hastily
And 'hind the head
Bite dead. This goes to pot, that not
Nature doth call.
Strive not above what strength hath got
Lest in the brawl
Thou fall. This fray seems thus to us:
Hell's spider gets
His entrails spun to whipcords' thus,
And wove to nets
And sets,

To tangle Adam's race
In's stratagems
To their destructions, spoiled, made base
By venom things,
Damned sins. But mighty, gracious Lord,
Communicate
Thy grace to break the cord; afford
Us glory's gate
And state. We'll Nightingale sing like,
When perched on high
In glory's cage, Thy glory, bright,
And thankfully,
For joy. The Homily The poet issues a warning:
If you're going to mess with
spiders, you better have a stinger. In other words, the
only way to beat the devil
(Hell's Spider) is to come
fully armed. The lesson is a simple one for Taylor. A well-armed
wasp struggles in the spider's web, but the spider
wisely refuses to close in on its prey. The sting would more than ruin the spider's meal. It would kill him.

In an apostrophe, Taylor even ridicules the "sorrow, venom elf (devil)" for his pathetic and foolish attempts to tackle the wasp. Of course, the spider doesn't just leave the wasp alone. He torments the creature. Though protected from the venomous spider, the wasp still is trapped in the net. The fly? Well, the fly is a different matter altogether. The foolish fly, possessed of no defense like that of the fortunate wasp, becomes quick prey and a sure meal for the spider, who takes the helpless creature by the throat, bites him behind the head, and sucks out all of the tasty fly juices. Now, the poet makes his point. It's all an allegory. The Spider? Why, it's the devil himself seeking to destroy "Adam's race." That's us. The wasp? The covenanted Puritan, protected by his "sting" -- the Word and his faith. The fly? Oh, the poor fly. Just a aimless, ill-prepared human sinner trapped and devoured by the spider.

Which do you want to be, fellow Puritan? In direct address to the deity, Taylor pleads for "grace to break the cord" -- the devil's web. He asks for sanctuary -- "glory's gate" -- from the evils of the world And here's the metaphysical conceit: The nightingale sings "thankfully/For joy." Well, why does that caged bird sing? He's imprisoned by God's love, and so is free, ironically. Free from the worries of the lost soul. Vocabulary:
homily
allegory
metaphysical
conceit
apostrophe And since Edward Taylor was a preacher as well as a poet, it might be useful to think of this poem, "Upon A Spider Catching A Fly," as a kind of three-part sermon ...

Complete with a homily (a simple story that illustrates a point); the application (what it means to us); and a prayer. To the Puritans, everything that happened in their daily lives had application as well in their spiritual lives.
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