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 sick
And 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.


Robert Lowell, Collected Poems, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007.