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Taylor uses an extended observation of a spider with first a wasp and then a fly to create a metaphor for our relationship to sin, hell, God, and grace.

Such an extended use of a single metaphor was not uncommon in 17th century preachers. Richard Sibbes was a master of hanging an entire sermon on a primary metaphor.

As a preaching technique, it is a useful means of permitting a hearer to keep track of the various elements of a sermon. However it must be used carefully lest the metaphor control the teaching or the relationship between metaphor and the doctrine becomes too cute.

Taylor’s use of the conceit apparently breaks form in the last stanza, because he turns to nightingales after speaking about flies. However rather than spoil the metaphor he actually illustrates a profound truth: When God frees us from the tangled web of sin, he does not merely free a fly, he makes something new: the fly becomes a bird; the Zombie (Eph.2:1-3) becomes a real human being:

the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Col. 3:10

Thus, Taylor’s shift to bird from insect drives home his point vividly. He also expresses the essential joy of the Christian life – which exists despite the concurrent pain of our trials. It is a paradoxical thing- but that is for another time.

Interesting how Taylor sets up his observation to metaphor movement in the first stanza with a question to sorrow. Sorrow of course has nothing to do with spider’s or flies-only men beset by sin and its effects.

UPON A SPIDER CATCHING A FLY

By Edward Taylor

Thou sorrow, venom Elfe:
Is this thy play,
To spin a web out of thyselfe
To Catch a Fly?
For Why?

I saw a pettish wasp
Fall foule therein:
Whom yet thy Whorle pins did not clasp
Lest he should fling
His sting.

But as affraid, remote
Didst stand hereat,
And with thy little fingers stroke
And gently tap
His back.

Thus gently him didst treate
Lest he should pet,
And in a froppish, aspish heate
Should greatly fret
Thy net.

Whereas the silly Fly,
Caught by its leg
Thou by the throate tookst hastily
And ‘hinde the head
Bite Dead.

This goes to pot, that not
Nature doth call.
Strive not above what strength hath got,
Lest in the brawle
Thou fall.

This Frey seems thus to us.
Hells Spider gets
His intrails spun to whip Cords thus
And wove to nets
And sets.

To tangle Adams race
In’s stratigems
To their Destructions, spoil’d, made base
By venom things,
Damn’d Sins.

But mighty, Gracious Lord
Communicate
Thy Grace to breake the Cord, afford
Us Glorys Gate
And State.

We’l Nightingaile sing like
When pearcht on high
In Glories Cage, thy glory, bright,
And thankfully,
For joy.