Oct 18 2013

A. R. Ammons – Identity

Published by at 8:04 am under Poetry

Identity
by A. R. Ammons

1) An individual spider web
identifies a species:

an order of instinct prevails
      through all accidents of circumstance,
            though possibility is
high along the peripheries of
spider
                        webs:
                        you can go all
                  around the fringing attachments

                  and find
disorder ripe,
entropy rich, high levels of random,
            numerous occasions of accident:

2) the possible settings
of a web are infinite:

            how does
the spider keep
                  identity
            while creating the web
            in a particular place?

            how and to what extent
                  and by what modes of chemistry
                  and control?

it is
wonderful
            how things work: I will tell you
                        about it
                        because

it is interesting
and because whatever is
moves in weeds
            and stars and spider webs
and known
                        is loved:
                  in that love,
                  each of us knowing it,
                  I love you,

for it moves within and beyond us,
                  sizzles in
to winter grasses, darts and hangs with bumblebees
by summer windowsills:

                  I will show you
the underlying that takes no image to itself,
            cannot be shown or said,
but weaves in and out of moons and bladderweeds,
                  is all and
            beyond destruction
            because created fully in no
particular form:

                        if the web were perfectly pre-set,
                        the spider could
                  never find
                  a perfect place to set it in: and

                  if the web were
perfectly adaptable,
if freedom and possibility were without limit,
                        the web would
lose its special identity:

      the row-strung garden web
keeps order at the center
where space is freest (intersecting that the freest
                  “medium” should
                  accept the firmest order)

and that
order
                        diminishes toward the
periphery
            allowing at the points of contact
                  entropy equal to entropy.


/ Photo by alanreeves001 /

A delightful meditation on identity and spiderwebs, questions of order and entropy beneath the moonlight…

A spider’s signature in the world is its web. It draws the web from its own body and so creates a place for itself in the world. The web is an expression of the spider’s identity.

The poet makes an interesting observation–

the possible settings
of a web are infinite

The world is so diverse, filled with endless variety, that it raises a dilemma: Identity is an expression within the world, it necessarily has points of attachment to the world.

how does
the spider keep
                  identity
            while creating the web
            in a particular place?

If the world is ever-different, those attachments to the varied environment mean the web, identity, must be different in every location. How then can we say that identity exists? If it takes one shape in one place and a different one in another, is there only environment and randomness?

The poet begins to weave for us a deeper understanding of how this works–

if the web were perfectly pre-set,
                        the spider could
                  never find
                  a perfect place to set it in: and

                  if the web were
perfectly adaptable,
if freedom and possibility were without limit,
                        the web would
lose its special identity

Life requires both pattern (identity) and adaptability (along with some external limitation). Being too rigid or fixed prevents connection and the ability to act effectively in the world, yet too much flexibility of form means a loss of identity and purpose. It is in the balance of the two qualities that identity can enter into the world.

I especially like the layered insight of his final few lines. Identity and pattern is preserved within the center, where we have the greatest freedom from the world’s demands, while adaptability and a certain amount of disorder at the edges allows connection to the changing world.

the row-strung garden web
keeps order at the center
where space is freest (intersecting that the freest
                  “medium” should
                  accept the firmest order)

and that
order
                        diminishes toward the
periphery
            allowing at the points of contact
                  entropy equal to entropy.

A simple observation in nature, and it draws me into contemplation of the great questions.






A. R. Ammons, A. R. Ammons poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry A. R. Ammons

US (1926 – 2001) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by A. R. Ammons

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “A. R. Ammons – Identity”

  1. jim carlin m d radiologiston 18 Oct 2013 at 12:22 pm

    a glistening web in the morning light
    sprayed with plastic-then gold paint
    captured on black velvet backed by
    a piece of cardboard was my first
    science project
    six weeks later a call from my excited
    teacher said “come quickly”
    when I arrived the egg sack had burst
    and all the young were escaping
    A+ the grade-and I was hooked for life

  2. Pegon 19 Oct 2013 at 8:57 am

    Oh, I enjoyed this…first time having read it. I have been watching a zipper spider (big black spider with a yellow stripe) for over a month. The web actually has a zipper in the webbing. It was interesting to watch.

    Anyway, this poem also takes me back to discussions on feminist studies on identity. Beautiful poetic meditation!

  3. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 20 Oct 2013 at 7:18 am

    Your commentary helps, Ivan, to hone into the depth of Ammons’s difficult poem. I will see a spider’s web differently. (I love Jim’s early experience with his science project–that got him hooked for life. )
    I too am fascinated with the idea of recognizing the place of form and pattern and flexibility and disorder as you point out, Ivan, in the last lines.–freedom and flexibility at the edges allows for connection and order holds identity in the center where space is freest. I see this in human relations where we are continually awakened by diversity. If I can be adaptable in connecting at the edges (external differences) while living from the center I can “go with the flow” and retain equanimity. I don’t know. A lot to think about.
    thanks—Therese

  4. Bob Corbinon 20 Oct 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Thanks for this poem!! And the commentary did help me appreciate it more.