Dickinson's The Spider holds a Silver Ball
Paradox baffles and inspires thinkers because it wipes out the greatest of conclusions, puts us intimately in touch with the very nature of inexplicable feeling, both simultaneously implodes and explodes the mind, and of course induces a certain sensation, as Dickinson puts it, “as if the top of my head were taken off.” It seems to me that in art this is the fix we desire, where sensation obliterates logic. Dickinson's poetry is one of the few places I have so far found the paradoxic tendency so profoundly expressed. Therefore, I will take up the notion of paradoxic tension created by Dickinson, her method of dealing with the inner and the outer, expansion and contraction, the creation and destruction of boundary, and the mysterious ways in which these things interact, especially through the symbol of the spider.
In “The Spider holds a Silver Ball,” the spider, as creator, as weaver, contains “In unperceived Hands” (2) a glimmering medium of magic. From this silver ball, creation spins outward. The spider, viewed as poet, weaves outward from the center of inspiration. The hands are both somehow there and not there as they delicately “unwind” this intangeble yet “Silver” mass. The description of the invisible in physical terms characterizes one method by which Dickinson weaves paradox. The idea of the spider “dancing” portrays an outward movement, but Dickinson with a few words suddenly makes this action inward and private: “dancing softly to Himself” (3). The first stanza confirms the portrait of an “unperceived” artist performing her art outwardly and we find a sense of what art means to Dickinson—an outward gesture which originates in some unknown, private and inner place. A boundary is outlined between the inside and the outside (the dancing, the weaving, the hands that do the weaving, the spinning outward) but, characteristic of Dickinson, this boundary is soon disintegrated: “He plies from nought to nought” (5). The inside world in which art is born and the outside world into which it spins are both defined as nothing, no place, and, of course, the same space.
The spider literally creates a material which “Supplants our Tapestries with His” (7). The challenge here is to differentiate between the tangible and the intangible. Quite literally, the spider produces a material to cover the tapestry of a home. The spider's tapestry, let us say, the poem, is woven by an unperceived inward and outward motion, an expansion and contraction of movement—the very act of which allows a paradoxical idea, the idea of art constructed through movement between the inner and outer, made physical in language through metaphor, an action in which there are no boundaries. These unseen hands cover a man-made physical creation, yet one remembers that a spider's web is literally translucent; the transparent creation, the art that very literally defies boundary, somehow physically makes the material...