Brain Pickings

Three Animators Bring to Life Three Beautiful Readings of Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider”

“And you, O my Soul, where you stand, surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space…”

When Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819–March 26, 1892) self-published his first book of poetry in 1855, his monumental hopes for this labor of love were met with a few shrieks of harsh criticism amid an ether of noiseless indifference, resulting in pitiful sales and a sunken heart. But then the young poet won over a sole supporter in the very writer from whom he had borrowed the book’s title: Whitman received an extraordinary letter of praise and encouragement from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the era’s most powerful literary tastemaker. Leaves of Grass (public library) went on to become one of the most beloved books of all time, establishing its author as America’s greatest poet.

A hundred and sixty years after the quiet release of Whitman’s magnum opus and its subsequent clamorous reception, the wonderful team at TED Ed undertook a poetic experiment, enlisting three emerging animators to reimagine three different readings of one of the most beautiful poems from the Whitman classic, “A Noiseless Patient Spider”: Jeremiah Dickey animated a performance by writer, educator, and activist Mahogany Browne; Biljana Labovic interpreted spoken-word poet and artist Joanna Hoffman’s reading; Lisa LaBracio (who has previously animated the science of why bees build perfect hexagons) brought to life a performance by poet and storyteller Rives.

The resulting trio is nothing short of breathtaking.


A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them — ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, — seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d — till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

Complement with artist Allen Crawford’s gorgeous page-by-page illustrated interpretation of Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” the crowning jewel of Leaves of Grass, and Whitman’s raunchy ode to New York City, then revisit Emerson’s life-changing letter to Whitman.

Published August 21, 2015




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