A Noiseless Patient Spider

by Walt Whitman

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Student Question

Could you help me compare Whitman's "A Noiseless Patient Spider" and Arnold's "Dover Beach" in regards to faith and knowledge?

I believe that both poems refer to faith and knowledge, but with a completely different result. Whitman's poem attempts to connect with the unknown in hope that he will eventually understand the world. While "Dover Beach" tells about the weakening of faith due to humanity's new found knowledge. So for "Dover Beach" knowledge results in the disappearance of faith and, therefore, "human misery..." ?

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In Arnold's "Dover Beach" poem and Whitman's A Noiseless Patient Spider," there is a search for something beyond one's grasp which will eventually fulfill one's inner longing...

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Your reasoning makes perfect sense. I wonder if your presentation of Whitman's "A Noiseless Patient Spider" will also include the hope that the speaker has that his Soul will make worthwhile and satisfying discoveries just like the patient spider?

The very different results do seem to concentrate on the faith that perseverance will succeed on the part of the spider and man in the first poem; the second poem—Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach"—sees the beauty in the land and see as they once were the world; but things have changed drastically, and he believes that their only hope of survival is staying together.

If I were writing a thesis statement in comparing the two poems, it might sound something like this:

In comparing and contrasting Walt Whitman's "A Noiseless Patient Spider," and Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," both speakers are wishful that goodness be found in the world; however, where Whitman presents the sense that hard work brings success and pleasure—all of it in a person's control, Arnold indicates that though there has been goodness in the world (in terms of religious faith), it is disappearing, and true meaning may only exist now between he and his love.

I think it might be important to note that Whitman sees deliverance in hard work, where Arnold sees survival in the dedication and loyalty two people promise each other. The hope is there in both poems. Whitman's is much more optimistic, coming from nature and knowledge of the world, while Arnold's tone provides a tiny glimmer of hope in the presence of loyalty and devotion, but not from the world itself.

I hope this is of some help.

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Thesis:

In Arnold's "Dover Beach" poem and Whitman's "A Noiselss Patient 
Spider," there is a distinct separation in feelings and intellect, which in turn results in human misery and isolation.

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Can anyone help me make express my thesis statement succinctly? Compare and contrast "A Noiseless Patient Spider vs. "Dover Beach."Although both speakers long to deal with their surroundings, they are unique in their approach as to how to accomplish this. Arnold chooses to replenish his by confining himself from the ill-defined world that surrounds him, while Whitman finds liberation through defining the vast universe that surrounds him. Arnold, due to a lack of faith, chooses to turn to his partner’s love and loyalty for deliverance, detaching himself from the world. Whitman strives instead to understand the world with patience and perseverance.  

In Walt Whitman's poem, "A Noiseless Patient Spider," I don't think this admirer of nature is seeing humans as insignificant. Actually, I believe he is looking to nature to be inspired as a human being who is struggling in a large world to reach out, much the way the spider is struggling to reach out in his microcosm. I do agree with your statement:

Whitman finds liberation through defining the vast universe that surrounds him.

On the other hand, Arnold sees the glass as half-empty. According to an analysis of the poem, "Dover Beach" is about a man with a woman—in their room—on the coast of England looking out over the water in the direction of France, seeing the lights, the beach, etc. He and his lover both look out at the scene which is compelling and calm.

The hidden sadness that the man feels comes to him as he listens to the water pulling pebbles on the beach back and forth with the tide, when he remembers something from Sophocles who had had a similar experience at the water, only to think not of the beauty of the moment, but of human suffering. This is certainly enough to ruin the sense of well-being the speaker has been sharing with his lover.

This poem reflects the changing of the times, when faith and religion were no longer at the center of civilization, and the thought leaves the speaker feeling empty and perhaps frightened. It is in this state of mind that he turns to his lover and pleads that they share their love and loyalty with each other, as something stable to hold on to during these changing times.

Written in 1867, England is beginning to see the glimmering of their Industrial Revolution. And as man becomes more impressed with technology and science, he starts to forget God—seemingly as a society. I believe this is what Arnold (and many poets, especially the Romantics) were responding to: losing one's soul to technology, etc.

You may be correct in thinking that the speaker in "Dover Beach" is detaching himself from a world that no longer looks familiar to him. He may feel adrift in a world that makes little sense to him. This is a timeless theme.

So if I understand what you are getting at, my thesis statement would be something like the following.

In Walt Whitman's "A Noiseless Patient Spider," and Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," both speakers are considering the world in which they live; however where Whitman sees the world as a place of limitless possibilities in acquiring knowledge—a universe that he wishes to reach out to—Arnold sees a world corrupted by advancements in knowledge and technology, believing that the world offers no stability other than what man can achieve with people rather than the world at large, and he turns away from interaction with the universe.

I hope I have captured the essence of what you are looking for. I think you have two good points to contrast here with these poems.

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