Robert Frost's Design Essay
Robert Frost's Design
Robert Frost's "Design" is a meditation on human attempts to see order in the universe--and human failures at perceiving the order that is actually present in nature. The speaker of the poem perceives what he takes to be a significant coincidence, then speculates on what the coincidence might mean, or whether it means anything at all. However, he fails to see that there is a very good reason for the coincidence he spots, and the "design" of nature that it implies is quite different from anything he suggests.
by Robert Frost
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.
What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.
The starting point for the speaker's thinking is what he perceives to be a coincidence: a white spider sits on a white flower holding up a white moth. The coincidence is even more striking because heal-alls are usually blue.
In Western culture, the color white usually symbolizes goodness, purity, and innocence. The language of the poem suggests these connotative links: the spider is "dimpled" as well as "fat and white," like a newborn baby. The moth's wings are like a "white piece of rigid satin cloth," like a bridal dress (or perhaps the lining of a coffin; already the speaker seems to be looking for the "darker" underside of the color white). The name "heal-all," too, suggests health, or perhaps the wisdom and benificence of a healer.
By the end of the octet, the contrast between the positive connotations of the color white and the apparent gruesomeness of the scene before the speaker is made explicit. On the one hand, the scene is one of "death and blight," mixed like a "witch's broth" and including "dead wings." On the other hand, the spider is like a "snow-drop," suggesting purity, and the moth's wings are like a "paper kite," suggesting innocence.
In the sestet, the speaker wonders how this coincidence of a white spider and white moth on a white flower came to be, especially given the ironic tension between the positive connotations of the color symbolism and the negative connotations of the spider's killing of the moth. The speaker seems to absolve any of the three of any blame,...
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Interpretations of Robert Frost's Poem, Design Essay
1089 Words5 Pages
Interpretations of Robert Frost's Poem, "Design"
The poem "Design" explores whether the events in nature are simply random occurrences or part of a larger plan by God, and if there's a force that dominates and controls our very existence. On that point both Jere K Huzzard and Everett Carter aggress on. They differ in their interpretations of the poem's ending and what they think Frost wanted to convey with his vague ending. Both agree that the last line of the poem was written in an undefined way with purpose on Frost's side. But each critic poses his own ideas regarding what is the meaning of that line. While Carter examines the whole poem in order to answer this question, Huzzard chose to focus only on the last two lines.
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This is supported in the poem by the description of the moth as a "rigid satin cloth." The satin cloth can be seen like a bridal dress, suggestions of good, but the negativity of "rigid" implies perhaps on the lining of a coffin where a rigid body would lie. In the second part of the octave the speaker describes the scene again. He compares the scene and the assorted characters to "a witch's broth" (line 6), and Carter claims that this part introduces ironies regarding the observer's feelings towards the scene he saw. The speaker views those characters as "assorted characters of death and blight" (line 4). But they are there to "begin the morning right" (line 5) - a positive saying which you wouldn't exact to hear associated with death and blight. This juxtaposing of "blight" and "right" emphasizes the irony. How can the morning be "right" if the scene culminate in death?
In the sestet, we are presented with three questions regarding the scene in the octave. According to Carter, a simple reading of the poem would lead the reader to think that the fourth question that rises is also the answer to the first three, the answer being that "nature is a design of evil." But he thinks of this questions as foolish, and again, ironic. How can a flower choose its own color? Is there really a guiding hand that directed the spider to that place only to build