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Design

Robert Frost

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2002-01-24
Added by: Sakura
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, however: the heal-all is "innocent," and so, apparently is the spider, who is "kindred" to the flower. The innocence of the moth hardly needs to be established.

In the closing couplet, the speaker offers two answers to the question of how the coincidence of the three white creatures came to be.The first possibility is that there is a force of evil at work that has created a "design of darkness to appall"--Satan, perhaps, delighting in the blasphemy of clothing a scene of destruction in the color of innocence and purity. The second is that there is no order in the universe at all, or at least none that operates on such a minute level: the "design of darkness" could exist only if "design govern in a thing so small." Since God is thought to govern everything, no matter how small, the possibility that design doesn't govern in small things immediately raises the possibility that there is no God to order the big things--such as human lives--either.
The speaker, then, has articulated the problem of how evil is possible in a universe created and watched over by a benevolent God. Given that there is evil in the world, then it appears that either God is not all-powerful, or there is no God.

There is a third alternative, however, that the speaker does not consider.

Any careful observer of nature, which Frost certainly was, can tell you that there is a perfectly logical explanation for the apparent coincidence of three white creatures appearing together. A white heal-all is unusual--the result, probably, of a recessive gene--but hardly cause for the kinds of metaphysical speculation in which the speaker engages. Given its existence, the presence of the other two creatures follows quite naturally. A white moth would be attracted to a white flower because it would offer some concealment from predators; a white spider would be attracted to a white flower because it would offer some concealment from prey. There is indeed a "design" at work, but it is not a "design of darkness"; it is simply the order of nature.

The existence of such a design leaves open the question of whether God exists.An atheist would take the explanation above as evidence that there are rational explanations for natural processes, and that there is no need to invoke the concept of God to explain how the universe works. In other writings, Frost does appear to profess belief in God (albeit belief of a complex kind). The focus of "Design," then, is not ultimately the existence or absence of God, but rather the tendency of humans to engage in what John Ruskin called the "pathetic fallacy"--the act of reading oneself into nature. The first act of responsible belief, Frost implies, is seeing nature as it is.
2002-02-26
Added by: Lex
I agree with Sakura's commentary. I just want to add that Frost, or the narrator is looking for God's plan for man and himself in the plan that has been shown to him in a minute sense.
2002-09-17
Added by: Albo
No. Frost is challenging the "Design"-er or God. How can one design such pain and helplessness in things so small.
2002-09-26
Added by: student
Albo that is what shakura said, only she refered to it as wondering whether god eisted at all or was not all powerful

Lex, im sure frost was thinking that but he never refers to it in his poem, the implication is there however

Shakura, I agree with all that you say, except that your third interprtation i belive is considered by the speaker, as he asks the question in the first four line of the second stanza, then states his hypothesis, the fifth line, and then states his doubts of that hypothesis, the 6 line.

2003-01-28
Added by: Pikros
There is one possibility that you have forgotten. Sakura comments on the possibility of evil in the design and characterizes it as "Satan". Frost was answering a different question, however. "If there is a God, why is there evil?" (not man created, free will based evil but: disease, plague, natural disasters, etc) There are only a few possible answers to the question, and Frost hints at the darkest one (albeit, he only means to scare us: he does not mean it.) The answer is "If dark design then - dark designer". No Satan, ladies and gentlemen. Frost hints at God himself creating this evil design. What this would make God, I trust there is no need to explain. THIS is what makes the poem so shocking and gives such force to its climax.
destiny
2003-02-11
Added by: student
i think he he talking about destiny - a plan for all creatures. no matter how innocent they appear, they have a destiny to fulfill their purpose in the "circle of life"
the iambic peantameter juxtaposed with the end ryh
2003-02-22
Added by: matthew glas
The Iambic pentameter juaxtaposed with the End ryhme give this poem a depth of evil to add to imagery of "Design"

matthew
its meaning
2003-11-14
Added by: Jim Baker
“Design” (Robert Frost, reprinted in Thomas R. Arp and Greg Johnson, Perrine’s Sound and Sense, 10th ed. U.S.A) is about an event Frost perceives as coincidence: a white spider sits on a white flower holding up a white moth. The coincidence is even more unusual because heal-alls are normally blue.
The color white is a symbolic (to Americans) of purity, goodness and, innocence. The language of the poem suggests these connotative links: that the spider is "dimpled" (L.1) and it is "fat and white," (L.1) much like a newborn baby is. The moth’s wings are described as "white piece of rigid satin cloth," (L. 3)which is both like a bridal dress and the lining of a coffin; already Frost seems to be looking for the darker side of the color white. The word "heal-all," (L. 2) is denotative. It means both the flower and “Heal All” as in making everything healthy.
By the end of the octet Frost successfully makes a contrast between the positive connotations of the color white and the negative ness of the spider devouring the moth. The story is one of "death and blight," (L. 4) mixed like a "witch's broth" (L. 6) and includes "dead wings," (L.8) which has a very negative tone. Looking from another perspective though, the spider is like a "snow-drop," (L. 7) which connotes purity, and the moth's wings are like a "paper kite," (L.8) connoting innocence, much like the color white.
In the sestet, Frost wants to know how a coincidence like a white spider eating a white moth on a white flower happened. Especially given the situational irony between the positive connotations of the color white and what it symbolizes compared to the negative connotations of the spider killing the moth. Frost seems to hold none of the three white creatures responsible for the event, however: the heal-all is innocent and so apparently is the spider, who is "kindred" (L.7) to the flower. The moth’s innocence is very obvious. Frost does nothing to make the moth seem anything but innocent.
Anyone who carefully observes nature, which Frost did, knows there is a logical explanation; Frost didn’t say this though he left it for the reader to get on his/her own. The reason the moth was on the white flower is for concealment. The moth’s death is ironic (situational) because the thing the moth did to protect itself resulted in its death. There is indeed a "design" at work, but it is not a "design of darkness" (L.13); it is simply the order of nature.
The fact that such a design exists leaves present the question of whether God exists. An atheist would simply say that there is a rational explanation for the natural processes which go on and that there is no need to bring up God to explain how the universe works.
On a side note frost does seem to have a belief in god in other writings (albeit belief of a complex kind).
Design is all about whether or not god exists. In the closing two lines, Frost provides two possible answer to his inquiry of how the coincidence happened. The first answer is that something evil created the "design of darkness to appall" (L. 13)—possibly Frost is referring to Satan whose greatest trick is deception. One of the more common ways he deceives is making something bad look innocent and good. The second is that there is no order in the world at all, or at least none that work on such a small level: the "design of darkness" (L.13) could exist only if "design govern in a thing so small." (L.14) Since God is seen as governing everything, no matter the size, the chance that design is not present in small things immediately raises the possibility that God is not real and can not order the big things--such as human lives--either.
Frost then, articulates the problem of how evil is possible in a world made and supposable governed by a benevolent God. Given the reality that there is evil in the world, it then appears that either God is not all-powerful, or there is no God.
Whats going on?
2004-05-06
Added by: Sessle
I read the poem in class and i have been asigned to reaserch the meaning, i liked the poem and i was interested in its meaning. to me it is just frost wondering if fate or design actually controll such small things and if there is some big plan that it is remarkable that it has brought those three things together. i dont think there is much to do with it being evil, as i dont find a spider hunting and eating a moth because of instinct bad or evil. By the way im not sure if you did it on purpose or sumthing but, Sakura and jim baker, you both said the same thing and what you said is on like a million other web sites, so i hope your not saying all thats stuff and passing it off as your own to sound intelligent.
Comparision
2004-05-26
Added by: Mike
I agree with everyone on the fact about the existence of God. To me, this poem is a bit of Comparision between God and Satan. For example, the spider, yet so innocent and pure has killed the moth; stressing the works of Satan. Another point that I believe hes trying to make is that Big or small, God has a plan for all.

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