Mary Botham Howitt’s poem “The Spider and the Fly” cautions us against the power of flattery and against vanity. Elaborate.
Mary Howitt’s poem “The Spider and the Fly” is a fable in verse form where the poetess tells us a tale about how a cunning Spider successfully trapped a foolish Fly using flattery as his weapon. In the last stanza of the poem she directly communicates to the readers, especially the little children, and warns them against paying heed to the flattery of an evil counsellor ever.
The story begins with the Spider inviting the Fly into his parlour up a winding stair and see the many pretty things that he has in store. But the Fly senses something bad in the Spider’s intention and refuses to comply by saying that whoever goes up his winding stair into his parlour never comes down again.
“O no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,”
The Spider then feigns concern for the Fly. He says that she must be very tired for flying so high, and so she may take some rest upon his little bed with fine thin sheets and pretty curtains drawn around. The fly again rejects the offer saying that whoever sleeps upon the Spider’s bed, never wakes up again. The Fly surely sensed the danger by her instinct.
The wily Spider now expresses his ‘warm affection’ for the Fly addressing her as ‘Dear friend’ and offers her a slice of the nice foods in his pantry. The Fly this time replies that she knows what’s in his store and does not wish to see it.
Vanity is the Spider’s choice weapon now. He heaps flattery on the Fly calling her ‘sweet creature’, ‘witty’ and ‘wise’. He also praises her ‘gauzy wings’ and brilliant eyes and suggests that she should have a look at her own beauty in the little mirror in his parlour. This time the Fly’s reply has a drastic change. Thus far, against all the three previous offerings of the Spider, she unequivocally replied in negative saying “O no, no…”. But this time she thanks the Spider and wishes him a good morning. She also says that she may come another day.
“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.”
This is what the spider was waiting for. He is now certain that he has trapped yet another poor creature by his trickery. So, he now goes into his den, weaves a subtle web and sets his table to dine upon the fly. He then comes out once again and starts singing in praise of the Fly, mentioning her pearl and silver wings, green and purple hue, and the crest upon her head. He also compares that the eyes of the Fly are bright like diamond whereas his own ones are dull as lead.
Hearing the Spider’s wily flattering words, the silly Fly fails to resist herself any longer. She now slowly comes nearer to the Spider, lost in the thought of her own beautiful wings and eyes, the colourful hue and the crest upon her head. The Spider now jumps upon her and fiercely drags her up the winding stair into his den. Thus comes the end of the foolish Fly.
Though the tale ends here, the poetess still goes on to add another short stanza of four lines to deliver her message in a direct way, ensuring the little children reading this does not miss the learning anyway. Thus Mary Howitt’s poem has been a didactic poem that seeks to teach a lesson to the readers to be alert against the power of flattery, against vanity. She uses this poem as a cautionary tale against those evil-minded people who uses flattery and charm and pretends to be well-wishers to disguise their actual evil intentions. We all should learn to stay away from those cunning people and never pay any heed to their advice however good it may sound.