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Abby Broadhurst

IB English 11 – Pd. 6
Mr. Jameson
April 12, 2013

CSI Response: A Letter from Brooklyn

Throughout A Letter from Brooklyn, Derek Walcott utilizes an extended metaphor,

comparing an elderly woman to a spider, in order to highlight the unexpected power that the

woman has over the narrator, Walcott, as she effectively convinces him that to truly live is to

follow one’s calling and thus she ultimately restores the narrator’s faith in people and in God. In

the first stanza, Walcott introduces the extended metaphor that will be developed through the

poem, stating that he receives a letter from an old lady written in a “spidery style.” He continues

to explain how her words are from a “skein of such frail thoughts its thread is often broken.”

This reference to a thread is reminiscent of a spider’s thread which is often perceived as very

weak, it’s strength undermined by the slightest breath of wind or the slightest touch. Literally,

this thread refers to the woman’s thoughts and conveys Walcott’s initial hesitancy to place his

trust in what she may have to say. Walcott recognizes that the letter may be scattered and

difficult to decipher due to the age and possible infirmity of the woman. Despite his initial

reaction and low expectations of what to expect from the letter, upon reading further, Walcott

realizes that the woman truly does have worthwhile information to share about his father and life

in general. She seems to inspire him as he then states that “the strength of one frail hand in a dim

room…patient and assured, restores [his] sacred duty to the Word.” This phrase symbolizes the

narrator’s change of heart as he comes to understand the truth behind the woman’s motivational

words. This is evident through his inclusion of the words “dim room” which recognize his

previously unenlightened and essentially lost state. This phrase is also important as it once again

incorporates the overall metaphor through the word “frail,” also mentioned in the first stanza.
The fact that the old woman’s words restore the narrator’s faith in the Bible and prompt him to

insinuate that he must find and fulfill his own sacred purpose embodies the paradox of the spider

and consequently of this woman. Despite the seeming frailty of a spider and its web, or the

woman and her words, it is clear that the narrator now recognizes the underlying strength and

spirit of the woman as he mentions “the strength of one frail hand.” The culmination of this

poem is evident in the second to last stanza in which Walcott mentions how the woman “spins

the blessings of her years…till the thread is resilient steel.” The spinning of life’s blessings is

indicative of all the wisdom that the woman has obtained throughout her life which she now

chooses to share with the narrator. The impact that the woman’s advice has had is evident

through the reference to a steel thread. The incorporation of steel, a very strong material,

clarifies how life’s true purpose suddenly begins to resonate with the speaker, the woman having

completed her web thus drawing him in to understand her underlying message. Ultimately, the

extended metaphor that exists between the woman and the spider is important as it highlights

how, oftentimes, strength and the will to go on can be found in the most unexpected of places.

The narrator’s life perspective is significantly altered as he is captured by the woman’s resilient

message and is imbued with faith in life, people, and God.

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