In this poem, the speaker observes a noiseless, patient spider on a promontory (a rock outcropping over the ocean). It leaves a mark on its vast surroundings by weaving its web. In the second stanza, the speaker compares the spider to his soul, which is always trying to make connections in the world. He addresses his soul, encouraging it to keep spinning because when "the gossamer thread [it] flings [catches] somewhere...", it will build the necessary bridges.
This poem is made up of two stanzas of five lines each. As usual, there is no set meter or rhyme scheme. The separation of stanzas in this poem represents a shift from literal (the speaker watching the spider make its web on the rock) to figurative (the speaker addressing his soul's attempts to make connections in the world). The aim of the poem is to draw the comparison between the speaker's soul and the spider, which is why the two stanzas mirror each other in size and structure.
In this poem, Whitman makes excellent use of imagery and metaphor. The speaker starts by vividly describing the experience of watching the spider weave its web, allowing the reader to share his fascination. In the second stanza, he elevates these images into metaphors for his soul's figurative desires: "to the bridge you will need be formed" and "till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere." Even the title of the poem is a descriptive image; the phrase "A noiseless patient spider" invokes the image of this tiny creature sitting perfectly still, waiting for its moment.
In this poem, the spider and the speaker's soul both face a similar plight. They must use their skills to build connections, searching for meaningful and effective bonds. In the first stanza, Whitman's characterization of the spider reads as somewhat hopeless - the creature is "isolated" and will be "ever unreeling" his web without any promise of making an impact on his "vast" environment. However, as is often the case with Whitman's poetry, the poem ends with an optimistic idea. Although it is difficult to "ceaselessly" search for connections, his soul will eventually be successful and then he can rest, just like a spider with a completed web.