A Discussion of the Trope of Circles in Emily Dickinson’s A Spider Sewed at Night
By the time Emily Dickinson had died in 1886, she had left a legacy of some seventeen-hundred poems of which only seven had been published in her lifetime. By all accounts Dickinson was an anonymously meticulous artist who had brought into being a huge number of poems which are all both lyrical and cryptic in design. Many of her poems have a highly condensed imagistic structure and one finds it difficult, without recourse to other Dickinson poems, to get at the meanings. This essay will examine in detail A Spider Sewed at Night and by focusing upon particularities within the poem hopefully get at certain more general themes which relate to her many other poems.
A Spider Sewed at Night is one of Dickinson’s finest compressed lyrics. In it one is presented with an implied observer who gives one the impression of being omnipresent rather than omniscient: the spider is ‘sewing at Night’ thus in complete darkness and anonymity, thus theobserver/narrator’s roving eye is somehow, unnaturally, able to see and record the spider’s preoccupations:
A Spider sewed at Night
Without a Light
Upon an arc of White.
If Ruff it was of Dame
Or Shroud of Gnome
Himself himself inform.
Yet the observer/narrator, in possession of universal presence, cannot decipher the meaning from the spider’s meticulous ‘arc of White,’ the nature of that is inscrutable: ‘Himself himself inform.’ The spider’s web, a kind of circle, is in the process of completion. The lines explicitly demonstrate a certain indecision on the part of the observer/narrator to reach a conclusion as to what the ‘arc of White’ is. A contrast is set up between two concrete metaphors: one, the opulent material wealth of the ‘Ruff ...of Dame’ signifying grandeur and nobility in life, the other, ‘the Shroud of Gnome’ signifies death. Both metaphors imply the colour white which, like...