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An Analysis of the Poem "Upon a Spider Catching a Fly" by Taylor


"Upon a Spider Catching a Fly" by Edward Taylor is an allegory warning readers of the pitfalls of evil. Taylor (1642-1729) was a Christian Puritan minister and poet whose sermons and poems centered on righteous living. Puritans were known for their religious devotion and fear of Satan lingering around every corner. In his poem, Taylor uses the image of a spider catching a fly to represent Satan and his schemes to entrap men in sin.

Summary

On the surface, the poem seems straightforward. The poem's subject is a spider, who weaves a web to catch his prey. A wasp lands on the web and fights ferociously to escape. The spider, knowing the wasp can sting, gently creeps and taps its back. When the wasp tries to attack, the spider retreats. Next, a fly is caught on the web. The spider quickly approaches the defenseless insect and kills it. The poem becomes more universal, and it explains that Satan tries to entangle man into his trap through sin. God, however, can easily break Satan's web and save man. Because of God's goodness and protection, man can live in joy, like a nightingale singing in a cage.

Structure

The poem consists of ten stanzas, each with five lines. The first line of each stanza has six syllables, the second and fourth lines contain four syllables, the long third line has eight and the last line has only two syllables. The rhyme scheme is ABABB, which denotes that the ending sounds on the first and third lines rhyme and the second, fourth and fifth lines rhyme. The poem does not always fit this structure, however. For example, in the last stanza, "high," "thankfully" and "joy" do not rhyme.

Symbols

Because this poem is a clear allegory, the creatures described represent mankind and the devil. The spider, described by Taylor as "Hell's Spider," clearly symbolizes Satan because both weave traps for their prey. The wasp represents a person strong in faith who is ready to battle sin, as the wasp is able to escape. The fly embodies those who get caught in the web of sin and are eventually killed by Satan. The nightingale, a creature who eats spiders, appears at the end, singing in its cage. The nightingale symbolizes devout Christians, who are protected by God and living in glory.

Significance

The poem is meant to teach a lesson to readers, which is clearly outlined in the sixth stanza. Taylor posits that a man should avoid the pitfalls of sin because he may not be strong enough to battle temptation and fall. The wasp and fly demonstrate how some are ready to battle against sin while others are swallowed up by it and die. The image of a nightingale in "Glories Cage" reassures readers that God can and will protect men from sin.

About the Author

Russell Paul teaches English and yearbook at Gaston Early College High School in Dallas, North Carolina. He is a National Board Certified teacher. Paul attended Michigan State University, where he obtained a bachelor's degree in English, and Western Governor's University for a Master of Education in instructional design.

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