"Little Miss Muffet" [Nursery rhyme, 1805]
Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
There came a big spider,
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.
"Spider and Fly" [from The Poetical Works Of Alice and Phoebe Cary (1882)]
Once when morn was flowing in,
Broader, redder, wider,
In her house with walls so thin
That they could not hide her,
Just as she would never spin,
Sat a little spider-
Sat she on her silver stairs,
Meek as if she said her prayers.
Came a fly, whose wings had been
Making circles wider,
Having but the buzz and din
Of herself to guide her.
Nearer to these walls so thin,
Nearer to the spider,
Sitting on her silver stairs,
Meek as if she said her prayers.
Said the silly fly, "Too long
Malice has belied her;
How should she do any wrong,
With no walls to hide her?"
So she buzzed her pretty song
To the wily spider,
Sitting on her silver stairs
Meek as though she said her prayers.
But in spite her modest mien,
Had the fly but eyed her
Close enough, she would have seen
Fame had not belied her-
That, as she had always been,
She was still a spider;
And that she was not at prayers,
Sitting on her silver stairs.
"The Flower Spider."[from The Poetical Works Of Alice and Phoebe Cary]
You've read of a spider, I suppose,
Dear children, or been told,
That has a back as red as a rose,
And legs as yellow as gold.
Well, one of these fine creatures ran
In a bed of flowers, you see,
Until a drop of dew in the sun
Was hardly as bright as she.
Her two plump sides, they were besprent
With speckles of all dyes,
And little shimmering streaks were bent
Like rainbows round her eyes.
Well, when she saw her legs a-shine,
And her back as red as a rose,
She thought that she herself was fine
Because she had fine clothes!
Then wild she grew, like one possessed,
For she thought, upon my word,
That she was n't a spider with the rest,
And set up for a bird!
Aye, for a humming-bird at that!
And the summer day all through,
With her head in a tulip-bell she sat,
The same as the hum-birds do.
She had her little foolish day,
But her pride was doomed to fall,
And what do you think she had to pay
In the ending of it all?
Just this; on dew she could not sup,
And she could not sup on pride,
And so, with her head in the tulip cup,
She starved until she died!
For in despite of the golden legs,
And the back as red as a rose,
With what is hatched from the spider's eggs
The spider's nature goes!
William Ellery Channing
"The Spider" [from Poems (1843)]
Habitant of castle gray,
Creeping thing in sober way,
Visible sage mechanician,
Aged animal at birth,
Wanting joy and idle mirth;
Clothed in famous tunic old,
Vestments black, of many a fold,
Spotted mightily with gold;
Weaving, spinning in the sun
Since the world its course has run;
Creation beautiful in art,
Of God's providence a part,-
What if none will look at thee,
Sighing for the humming bee,
Or great moth with heavenly wings,
Or the nightingale who sings?-
Curious spider, thou'rt to me
Of a mighty family.
Tender of a mystic loom,
Weaving in my silent room
Canopy, that haply vies
With the mortal fabric wise;
Ne'er was such a generator.
Adam wondered at thy skill,
And thy persevering will,
That continueth to spin,
Caring not a yellow pin
For the mortals' dire confusion;
Sager in profound conclusion
Than astronomer at night,
When he brings new worlds to light.
Heaven has furnished thee with tools,
Such as ne'er a heap of fools
Have by dint of sweat and pain
Made for use, and made in vain.
When mild breeze is hither straying,
Sweetest music kindly playing,
Raising high the whispering leaves
And the covering of the sheaves,
Thou art rocking, airy thing,
Like a proud exalted king;
Conqueror thou surely art,
And majestical of heart.
There are times of loneliness
When a living thing we bless;
Times of miserable sin,
Cold without, and dark within;
Then, old spider, haply I
Seek thy busy factory;
Always finding thee at home,
Too forecasting e'er to roam;
So we sit and spin together
In the gayest, gloomiest weather.
Alone and in a Circumstance [about 1870]
Alone and in a Circumstance
Reluctant to be told
A Spider on my reticence
And so much more at Home than I
I felt myself a visitor
And hurriedly withdrew -
Revisiting my late abode
with articles of claim
I found it quietly assumed
as a Gymnasium
Where Tax asleep and Title off
The inmates of the Air
Perpetual presumption took
As each were special Heir -
If any strike me on the street
I can return the Blow -
If any take my property
According to the Law
The Statute is my Leaned friend
But what redress can be
For an offence not here nor there
So not in Equity -
That Larceny of time and mind
The marrow of the Day
By spider, or forbid it Lord
That I should specify -
"The Spider as an Artist" [about 1875]
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 -
Neglect Son of Genius
I take thee by the Hand -
Hannah Flagg Gould
"The Spider" [from Hymns and other poems for children (1869)]
One biting winter morning,
A dusky spider swung
From off the mantle, by his thread,
And o'er the stove-pipe hung.
Escaped from some dim cranny cold,
To warmer quarters there,
He seemed, upon that slender hold,
An atom hung on air.
I watched his quick manoeuvres
Above the funnel hot,
Where like a falling mustard seed
He looked, but touched it not.
For when he'd spun his line too long,
His tiny hands and feet
He plied to shun the fervor strong,
And made a slight retreat.
Then down again he'd venture,
A rash, unwary thing!
And to his tenure frail, above
The burning iron, cling.
He'd mimic now, the sailor's art
To dangle on the rope,
And then, the clinging human heart
On some delusive hope.
Methought, "Poor, simple spider!
A cruel death is near;
Thou art upon its very lip,
And yet so void of fear!
The spider folk, I here confess,
Had never charms for me;
They weave their tents, like wickedness,
For deeds of cruelty.
"They live by snare and slaughter;
And oft the piercing cry
I've heard from some poor victim bound,
By them slung up to die;
The while, for many a venomed bite,
Would spider at him run,
And back, as if with fell delight,
To pain the dying one.
"And yet, I'll try to save thee;-
For once a spider's friend!"
I raised my hand, when lo! he fell,
As lightning, to his end!
The wicked flee when none pursue.
In jealousy and dread,
Not knowing what I aimed to do,
To death the spider fled.
His little life was over;
And where so quick he fell,
Upon the fervid iron lay
No speck, his fate to tell.
Though short its space, for good or ill,
We thence, perhaps, may find
Some little moral to distil,
For use of human kind.
Is not unwary childhood,
For pleasure, ofttimes prone
To shun the way experience points,
And bent to take its own?
Does not the wicked, from his breast,
Spin out the line of sin
That leads him to the grave unblest,
And drops him, hopeless, in?
Mary Botham Howitt
"The Spider and the Fly. An Apologue.
A New Version of an Old Story." [from Sketches of Natural History (1834)]
"Will you walk into my parlour?" said the Spider to the Fly,
"'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've a many curious things to shew when you are there."
"Oh no, no," said the little Fly, "to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down
"I'm sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high;
Will you rest upon my little bed?" said the Spider to the Fly.
"There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine
And if you like to rest awhile, I'll snugly tuck you in!"
"Oh no, no," said the little Fly, "for I've often heard it said,
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!"
Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, "Dear friend what can I
To prove the warm affection I've always felt for you?
I have within my pantry, good store of all that's nice;
I'm sure you're very welcome-will you please to take a
"Oh no, no," said the little Fly, "kind sir, that cannot be,
I've heard what's in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!"
"Sweet creature!" said the Spider, "you're witty and you're
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your
I've a little looking-glass upon my parlour shelf,
If you'll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself."
"I thank you, gentle sir," she said, "for what you're pleased to
And bidding you good morning now, I'll call another day."
The Spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly Fly would soon come back again:
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready, to dine upon the Fly.
Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing,
"Come hither, hither, pretty Fly, with the pearl and silver
Your robes are green and purple-there's a crest upon your
Your eyes are like the diamond bright,but mine are dull as
Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple
Thinking only of her crested head-poor foolish thing! At
Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlour-but she ne'er came out again!
And now dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words, I pray you ne'er give heed:
Unto an evil counsellor, close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.
"The True Story of Web-Spinner." [from Sketches of Natural History (1834)]
Web Spinner was a miser old,
Who came of low degree;
His body was large, his legs were thin,
And he kept bad company;
And his visage had the evil look
Of a black felon grim;
To all the country he was known,
But none spoke well of him.
His house was seven stories high,
In a corner of the street,
And it always had a dirty look,
When other homes were neat;
Up in his garret dark he lived,
And from the windows high
Looked out in the dusky evening
Upon the passers by.
Most people thought he lived alone;
Yet many have averred,
That dismal cries from out his house
Were often loudly heard;
And that none living left his gate,
Although a few went in,
For he seized the very beggar old,
And stripped him to the skin;
And though he prayed for mercy,
Yet mercy ne'er was shown-
The miser cut his body up,
And picked him bone from bone.
Thus people said, and all believed
The dismal story true;
As it was told to me, in truth,
I tell it so to you.
There was an ancient widow-
One Madgy de la Moth,
A stranger to the man, or she
Had ne'er gone there, in troth;
But she was poor, and wandered out
At nightfall in the street,
To beg from rich men's tables
Dry scraps of broken meat.
So she knocked at old Web Spinner's door,
With a modest tap, and low,
And down stairs came he speedily,
Like an arrow from a bow.
"Walk in, walk in, mother!" said he,
And shut the door behind-
She thought for such a gentleman,
That he was wondrous kind;
But ere the midnight clock had tolled,
Like a tiger of the wood,
He had eaten the flesh from off her bones,
And drank of her heart's blood!
Now after this fell deed was done,
A little season's space,
The burly Baron of Bluebottle
Was riding from the chase:
The sport was dull, the day was hot,
The sun was sinking down,
When wearily the Baron rode
Into the dusty town.
Says he, "I'll ask a lodging
At the first house I come to;"
With that the gate of Web Spinner
Came suddenly in view:
Loud was the knock the Baron gave-
Down came the churl with glee,
Says Bluebottle, "Good sir, to-night
I ask your courtesy;
I'm wearied with a long day's chase-
My friends are far behind."
"You may need them all," said Web Spinner,
"It runneth in my mind."
"A Baron am I," said Bluebottle;
"From a foreign land I come."
"I thought as much," said Web Spinner,
"Fools never stay at home!"
Says the Baron, "Churl, what meaneth this?
I defy ye, villain base!"
And he wished the while in his inmost heart
He was safely from the place.
Web Spinner ran and locked the door,
And a loud laugh, laughed he;
With that each one on the other sprang,
And they wrestled furiously.
The Baron was a man of might,
A swordsman of renown;
But the Miser had the stronger arm,
And kept the Baron down:
Then out he took a little cord,
From a pocket at his side,
And with many a crafty, cruel knot
His hands and feet he tied;
And bound him down unto the floor,
And said in savage jest,
"There's heavy work in store for you;
So, Baron, take your rest!"
Then up and down his house he went,
Arranging dish and platter,
With a dull and heavy countenance,
As if nothing were the matter.
At length he seized on Bluebottle,
That strong and burly man,
And with many and many a desperate tug,
To hoist him up began:
And step by step, and step by step,
He went with heavy tread;
But ere he reached the garret door,
Poor Bluebottle was dead!
Now all this while, a Magistrate,
Who lived the house hard by,
Had watched Web Spinner's cruelty
Through a window privily:
So in he burst, through bolts and bars,
With a loud and thundering sound,
And vowed to burn the house with fire,
And level it with the ground;
But the wicked churl, who all his life
Had looked for such a day,
Passed through a trap-door in the wall,
And took himself away:
But where he went no man could tell;
'Twas said that underground,
He died a miserable death,
But his body ne'er was found.
They pulled his house down stick and stone,-
"For a caitiff vile as he,"
Said they, "within our quiet town
Shall not a dweller be!"
"Reading a Poem by Walt Whitman I Discover We Are Surrounded by Companions" [from Cold Water (1967), Wesleyan University Press]
Reading Walt Whitman, I find he compares his soul to a
Who could know he would?
And suddenly, my life tips over! a bed in a rat-infested
apartment with scared kids jumping on one end.
My head can take it-
like a cheap flowerpot with hyacinths,
uncracked after a four-story drop
from the window sill.
My heart, that was just a heart,
Copyright © 1967 by Lou Lipsitz, Wesleyan University Press, by permission of the University of New England Press.
begins to fit everywhere, like newspapers
stuffed into the broken ceilings of Harlem.
"The Insect Teacher"
See! With what untiring skill,
What an energy of will,
All unaided,all forlorn,
Housewife's Hate, and beauty's scorn,
How the spider builds her bower
High in the halls of regal power.—
Is the mansion of thy care
Made by wealth and taste so fair,
By Misfortune's fearful sway,
Laid in dust?—or reft away?—
Yield no thought to blank despair,
Firm in faith, and strong in prayer,
Rise!—the ruin to repair.
For the Spider, homeless made,
Hunted from each loved retreat,
Not dejected, not afraid,
Toiling thro' the gloomiest shade
Gatheresth vigor from defeat:
Child of Reason!—deign to see
What an insect teacheth thee.