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In the poem, “The Spider and the Fly”, written by Mary Howitt, the poet talks through metaphors (hidden meanings) about how a spider can put a fly under its spell by being polite and sweet. She personifies man as the spider and woman as the fly and talks about how innocent women are to the sweet talks of men and that they should be more cautious.
“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly, “ ‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever did you spy; The way into my parlour is up a winding stair, And I have many curious things to show you when you are there.” “Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain, For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.”
In the first stanza, the spider, very politely, asks the fly whether she will walk into his parlour, which he claims to be the prettiest little parlour the fly ever saw. He then goes on to describe his parlour to the fly by saying it has a winding stair and on top has many curious things.
The fly, being smart, did not fall into his trap and paid no heed to his invitations saying that she knew those who went with the spider, ne’er come down. The spider, with his sweet talks and false charm, traps poor insects like the fly and then kill them. The parlour is the web which a spider creates and where insects like the fly gets stuck due to its stickiness.
However, what the poet is trying to say is that men in the real world would charm women like this way before destroying her emotionally. Men with sweet talks and false pretenses should be avoided by women.
“ I’m sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high; Will you rest upon my little bed?” said the Spider to the Fly. “There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin, And if you like to rest awhile, I’ll snugly tuck you in!” “Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “for I’ve often heard it said, They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!”
In the second stanza, the spider tries again to lure (trap) the fly into his web. He exclaims that the poor fly just be tired by soaring (flying) up so high. So he requests the fly to rest her weary (tired) self in his soft bed with pretty curtains drawn around. And then the spider would gently tuck the fly to sleep.
However, the fly declined the offer by saying that she knew those who slept in his soft bed never, never wake again, meaning that they meet their death because of the spider. The man, here as the spider, will try all ways to trap the woman, here the fly, by giving them signs of comfort, however one should be sharp around them and not fall into the trap.
Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, “Dear friend what can I do, To prove the warm affection I’ve always felt for you? I have within my pantry, good store of all that’s nice; I’m sure you’re very welcome- will you please to take a slice?” “Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “kind sir, that cannot be, I’ve heard what’s in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!”
In the third stanza, the cunning spider lures the fly to his delicious pantry (a place where food is stored). He says that his pantry is a sight to behold as it has got a good store. The fly is very much welcome to come in and take a bite of the delicacies but the fly declined the offer.
She said that she has heard about the spider’s pantry and the fact that what’s in there is something I do not wish to see. Men in this world try to trap the ladies by themselves pleasing them with the thoughts of delicious food. However, the poet, through the character of the fly, warns the reader to be cautious of such false temptations.
“Sweet creature!” said the Spider, “you’re witty and you’re wise, How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes! I’ve a little looking-glass upon my parlour shelf, If you’ll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself.” “I thank you, gentle sir,” she said, “ for what you’re pleased to say, And bidding you good morning now, I’ll call another day.”
In the fourth stanza, the spider tries a more persistent and clever way to entrap the fly by using flattery. He exclaims with happiness how beautiful and sweet the fly is. He says that the fly’s wings are gauzy (thin and shiny ) and how brilliant are your eyes. So he asks her to step inside his parlour where he has a little looking-glass and the fly can see herself how pretty she is.
The fly, this time, did not directly decline his offer. She is very pleased with all the flattery, just like the spider had hoped. She says that though she will be flying off now, she will come visit the spider soon. Flattery is an old trick which men use on women to trap them. False flattery are used often to trick the women and the poet shows how the innocent fly is slowly falling for the false words of the spider.
The Spider turned him round about, and went into his den, For well he knew the silly Fly would soon come back again: So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly, And set his table ready, to dine upon the Fly. Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing, “Come hither, hither, pretty Fly, with the pearl and silver wing; Your robes are green and purple- there’s a crest upon your head; Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead!”
In the fifth stanza, the cunning spider knew that the fly will soon come back as the flattery did work. He goes inside and starts creating a subtle web, in a little corner sly. He sets his table ready to dine upon the fly once she comes back. Then the clever spider goes out and starts singing a song full of praise.
He says wonderful things about the fly all the while beckoning (calling) her. He calls out to the fly with the pearl and silver wing. He says that he finds her robes (body) to be in a beautiful colour of green and purple and also has a crest (crown) upon your head. He ends his flattery by comparing her diamond bright eyes to his dull eyes.
The poet shows how a man uses the physical appearances of a woman to flatter a them and entice her enough to make her approach the man. This way the man traps the woman in a web of false temptation.
Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly, Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flirting by; With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew, Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue- Thinking only if her crested head- poor foolish thing! At last, Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast. He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den, Within his little parlour- but she ne’er came out again!
In the sixth stanza, the poor fly meets her tragic end. On hearing the spider’s wily (cunning), flattering words, the fly comes buzzing towards the spider’s web. She could think of nothing apart from all the praises said by the spider about her brilliant eyes and her crested head. She did not even know that she is about to get inside a trap as her head is filled with all the false praises.
As soon as she arrives at the web, the spider fiercely held her fast and drags her into his dismal (unfortunate) den and ends the fly’s life. This is what happens when a woman pays heeds to a man’s false enticements and fake praises. She is trapped in a spell from where she is unable to recover and hence, meets her death as in the case of the fly.
And now dear little children, who may this story read, To idle, silly flattering words, I pray you ne’er give heed: Unto an evil counselor, close heart and ear and eye, And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.
In the final stanza of the poem, the poet directly converses with the reader. She says to the children, who will be reading this poem, not to pay any attention to idle, silly flattering words. Such words will only make people miserable later on so it’s better to avoid it from the beginning.
Whenever there is any evil counselor (a person who preaches bad things), one should care not to listen to them and pay no attention at all. She further says that the tale of the Spider and the Fly should act as a moral lesson for everyone to be careful in the future.
Through this children’s poem, the poet teaches the readers a very valuable lesson, which is applicable to both the children and the adults. She says one should never give in to flattery and false words as they mean nothing. Men have been trapping women for centuries with false words or praises and it has done nothing but harm.
She requests the readers not to be as innocent and foolish as the fly in the tale but to be careful in the big bad world that’s waiting for them. One should only believe in oneself and not what others say or think of them.