The Spider and the Fly
There’s a little poem that all wise children used to learn: “The Spider and the Fly,” by Mary Howitt. The rhyme will help you remember both vocabulary and grammar from the poem. Reciting it will help you with pronunciation and learning English sentence stress and rhythm. Also, you may run into references to the poem in other writing, since just about everyone who grew up speaking English knows it, or at least its plot or story.
“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've many a curious thing to show when you are there.”
‘Tis = short for “It is.”
parlour = a room in a house used for meeting guests
curious = unusual, interesting
If you are a spider, what is your “parlour”? What is your “winding stair”?
If you are a fly, should you agree to go to a spider’s home? Why or why not?
“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can never come down again.”
“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!”
in vain = a waste of time and effort.
weary = tired
soaring = flying
drawn = pulled
sheets = coverings for a bed.
snugly = tightly
What reason does the fly give for saying no?
Why might the fly not be able to come down again?
What does the spider promise if the fly agrees?
Is the spider telling the truth or not?
“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “for I've often heard it said,
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!”
Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, “Dear friend what can I do,
To prove the warm affection that 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?”
cunning = scheming; smart in a dishonest way.
warm affection = to be warm is to have strong emotions. In this case, the emotion is liking someone.
pantry = a room where food is stored.
store = amount; things kept
“I'm sure you're very welcome” = this is a formal or polite way to offer something: “you can have some.”
Now what does the spider offer the fly if she comes to his home?
Why is the fly still talking to the spider? Why didn’t she fly away?
“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!”
“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.”
witty = fast-thinking, smart.
gauzy = like gauze, a thin material you can see through.
looking-glass = mirror
If nobody who ever goes in to the spider’s home ever comes out again alive, how does the fly know what is in the spider’s pantry?
What could be in a pantry that the fly would not want to see?
What is the spider offering the fly when he offers to let her look in a mirror? Why is that of value?
“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.”
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.
“gentle sir” = a formal or polite way to address someone.
“what you’re pleased to say” = a formal way to say “for what you say”
“bidding you good morning” = a formal or polite way to say “goodbye”
“I’ll call another day” = a formal or polite way to say “see you again.”
“turned him round about” = turned around
“well he knew” = he knew; he had figured it out.
subtle = clever, hard to understand, hard to see
sly = almost the same meaning. Hiding a secret; smart in a dishonest way.
Why is the fly using formal, polite speech here?
Why does the spider think the fly will come again? Do you think he is right?
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!”
robes = clothes
crest = crown
Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting 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 of her crested head — poor foolish thing!
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!
alas = just a sound that you make to show you are sad.
wily = almost the same as sly, cunning.
flattering = insincere praise. Saying good things about someone only to trick them.
flitting = flying, but not in a straight direction.
hue = color
What just happened to 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 counsellor, close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.
idle = useless, meaningless
ne’er = never
give heed = listen
counsellor = someone who is giving you advice
What lesson did you learn from the poem?
If you think you have the answers to the questions, send them in below.
Answers published next issue…
Figure 1 A parlour, from the 19th century
This painting is also named "The Spider and the Fly." Can you say why?
The name of this early movie is a reference to the poem. What does this tell the audience?
The name of this play is taken from the poem. What do you think it will be about?
This American political cartoon from the early 20th century (1907) assumes the readers already know the poem "The Spider and the Fly." Otherwise, it may be hard to understand it.