Robert Lowell





Mr. Edwards and the Spider

  I saw the spiders marching through the air,
  Swimming from tree to tree that mildewed day
    In latter August when the hay
    Came creaking to the barn. But where
      The wind is westerly,
  Where gnarled November makes the spiders fly
  Into the apparitions of the sky,
  They purpose nothing but their ease and die
Urgently beating east to sunrise and the sea;

  What are we in the hands of the great God?
  It was in vain you set up thorn and briar
    In battle array against the fire
    And treason crackling in your blood;
      For the wild thorns grow tame
  And will do nothing to oppose the flame;
  Your lacerations tell the losing game
  You play against a sickness past your cure.
How will the hands be strong? How will the heart endure?

  A very little thing, a little worm,
  Or hourglass-blazoned spider, it is said,
    Can kill a tiger. Will the dead
    Hold up his mirror and affirm
      To the four winds the smell
  And flash of his authority? It’s well
  If God who holds you to the pit of hell,
  Much as one holds a spider, will destroy,
Baffle and dissipate your soul. As a small boy

  On Windsor Marsh, I saw the spider die
  When thrown into the bowels of fierce fire:
    There’s no long struggle, no desire
    To get up on its feet and fly—
    It stretches out its feet
  And dies. This is the sinner’s last retreat;
  Yes, and no strength exerted on the heat
  Then sinews the abolished will, when sickA
nd full of burning, it will whistle on a brick.

  But who can plumb the sinking of that soul?
  Josiah Hawley, picture yourself cast
    Into a brick-kiln where the blast
    Fans your quick vitals to a coal—
      If measured by a glass,
  How long would it seem burning! Let there pass
  A minute, ten, ten trillion; but the blaze
  Is infinite, eternal: this is death,
To die and know it. This is the Black Widow, death.