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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

32 Comments

  1. Somebody says:

    I also wonder if Frost was influenced by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (pub. 1927) which states that the normal laws of physics break down when you get to the atomic level (quantum physics).

  2. Somebody says:

    The fat and dimpled spider represents a baby. Frost is playing off the seeming innocence of a child with its underlying need for self preservation in a kill or be killed world.

  3. Hugo Vidal says:

    In my opinion, what the poet wants to emphasize is the fact that the Designer cannot be reached by the human mind. Compared to Him, we are as small as the spider or the flower.I have seen a red cell amplified one million times in a microscope. It has so many different things, intertwined in such a perfect order! And there are four to five millions of red cells inside a cubic millimeter.The designer cannot be questioned. The mind of the poet was so advanced that he could be aware of this fact before the science discovered so many things about the microworld.He makes it known in the last two verses.The Designer has left free will so that we can choose to be atheistic, agnostic, or believer.

  4. MickeyB. says:

    I love all the interpretations of this exquisite poem. Could Frost have been a little tipsy at the time of writing this poem? Or just making it all up? I believe that the beautiful occurence in nature he saw he wrote about and then questioned why he had to be the one to witness it.

  5. pegi says:

    im pegai
    well i think i got confused by this poet i can underestand what it say!!!!!

  6. Lex says:

    Frost illustrates in this poem a series of what appear to be rare coincidences: a heal-all that, while usually is a violet-blue, is white; a small white spider that is for some unknown reason, residing on said heal-all; a moth that happened to fly by the spider on the flower. He then asks whether there is any way this could be without some form of greater design. Did God design for a small white spider to cross a rare white flower and climb it on the very night that moth happened to fly by? Then he brings up another thought, Would a higher Design worry about the small details, such as how that spider got its meal that night? These two questions consider two points of veiw on the matter of Predestination, not creationism. For those who are not aware, Predestination means that everything in our life is already been decided and we are already fated the path before us. on the one hand, how could the small unprobable coincidences happen without some sort of higher design. On the other why would a greater design worry about such details?

  7. negar hesari says:

    I think the tone of the poem is absolutely the point of doubt and the poet wants us to doubt the same thing he doubts

  8. Justin Wagner says:

    The whole point of this poem is to make the reader wonder about what initially may seem like design in nature. Frost doesn’t necessarily come down one way or the other. Frost was well-read on Darwinism, and in many of his writings he ponders what the fact of evolution would mean for humanity and our ideas about purpose and design.
    Of note is that Stephen Jay Gould (famous American paleontologist) quoted this poem in his keynote presentation at the Skeptics Society Gould Festschrift, when talking about the lack of design in nature.

  9. Keith says:

    The piece is a commentary on “design” arguments for the existence of God. The argument proceeds simply as follows: Nature reveals a design so precise that a designer of that nature must exist, i.e., God. The poem’s response: one being’s design for good is another’s design for evil. What works for the spider is a disaster for the moth…thus, the “God” that is argued for depends on t e perspective, whether the design enhances or collapses life.

  10. Sarah Park says:

    I think this poem is really interesting…you all seem to have really good points, especially you, chua hsieh wen. 🙂 good job! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  11. allen says:

    This poem means innocence of a child. He wonders how things work and why things appears the way they do.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Honestly, I do not see “God’s” design in this as some previous comments have mentioned. Based on the contextual evidence, or the literal lines on the poem, I have yet to see any biblical allusions aside from, perhaps, the title of “Design.” It’s almost stretching it to say that there is anything biblical in this poem when nothing of the sort is mentioned in the lines. Because of this, I’m not quite sure I can agree that Frost is criticizing God.

    What I found was that the speaker of this poem was questioning “what design” would cause such events to happen. The heal-all, which is a flower that is /supposed/ to be blue, is white. Not only that, but it concealed a spider, which is usually thought of to be black or some other color. The spider, which seems to have evil connotations, is the color of purity and innocence: white. The fact that this discolored flower hid a strangely colored spider is strange enough. The fact that a white moth, thinking that it would be concealed by the whiteness of the heal-all, is killed by a spider already hidden in that flower is horribly ironic.

    The speaker then questions what “design” there is that could cause all this to happen. The timing is almost too perfect for the heal-all to change its color into white, the spider to be white, and for a white moth to come over. The poem line “…witches’ broth” connotes that he believes that some sort of otherworldy, dark magic could’ve made such events occur. But he is unsure as to what exactly this design is. He questions it because it is so out of place. In the ending lines “What but design of darkness to appall?- If design govern in a thing so small” he continues to question what design of darkness could work even in something so small like this event. What “design” made the flower white, “brought the kindred spider to that height,” and “steered the white moth” there all at the same time? The speaker questions what dark design there is that could govern in something so small as well as in other things.

  13. art chapman says:

    It appears that Robert Frost is challenging the “argument from design” with respect to it’s use as proof of God’s existence. Frost seems to ask the question why a benevolent, loving god would design the world the way it is with the existence of evil and darkness, as represented by the spider’s mindless pursuit of the helpless moth. He sees this “designed” behavior as arising from an appalling darkness, if indeed design
    does govern in a thing so small. By the same token, one might ask why we humans will bash a cow in the head with a maul in order to kill it and eat its delectable carcass! There is no denying that survival of the most fit is an operating principle in nature, and asking why God chose such an order is as hopeless as asking why there was such a thing as a singularity before space, matter and time came into being with the theoretical “Big Bang.” It appears that we poets will be asking unanswerable questions as long as there is life, and its beauty and enigma that inspires great poetry!

  14. Tim Cusick says:

    what do u think this poem means? what was robert frost trying to convey to us when he wrote this? is it supposed to be about good and evil, nature and the food chain, or what? i have always wondered so someone please help me out…thanks

  15. Tituba says:

    Very nice and meaningful poem, really enhoyed it. The repeated use of ‘white’ conveys a lot of meaning.

  16. ea says:

    Mary, “the way-side blue and innocent heal-all” is the flower “Brunella.” (I tried including a link to it here but it triggered the spam filter.)

    He is marveling over having found an aberrant one that is white. It may afford depper metaphors, but trust me — he wonders why it’s white and not blue.

  17. Mary says:

    ” The wayside blue and innocent heal-all”? This complex sentence to me says even if every living thing stays on the right path, life itself makes us do wrong to something or someone. Therefore every living thing needs to be forgivin. No matter the kind of living creature.

  18. Chua Hsieh Wen says:

    The meaning of white shifts from a pure, innocent and good one to that of a darker side. The spider being white is of little relative significance as compared to the flower being white and the moth being described as a white piece of rigid satin cloth. The heal-all does not occur naturally; a genetic defect is present. The poet also asks “what did that flower have to do with being white”, which is ironic because flowers, like humans, cannot change their colour on the outside. The white satin is connotated to the motif of death, as it is found in coffins.

    On a more personal note, I did truly enjoy the poem. The question as to the designer’s nature is rather open to the reader to interpret, and the reader is provocated to think because if the disturbing nature of the event rendered. However, some may see this simply as nature in its course (predatory relationships) and dismiss it, but as for me, I find it interesting to wonder about this philosophical and hypothetical theme of design.

  19. emily says:

    the poem is about god and his greater plan. It is a paradoxical poem. The first stanza is explaining the spider and the heal-all and everything as white. The second stanza is a series of questions. if you’ll notice the line that mentions “…darkness could appall” there is the sudden mention of darkness. The white spider is simple, and doing nothing wrong, but he is part of the darker plan. He cannot control himself; it lies in God.

  20. Marrah says:

    I think that those views are all good, but when I read the poem I got a bit of a different perspective about it. When I read the line
    What had that flower to do with being white,
    I sat there and asked myself what did the flower to do with being white, why does he ask this?–then I thought
    hey maybe it’s all in the design… the spider’s design, the spider’s evil design….I think that it was the spider’s design/plan to go to the white flower, because the spider himself was white (therefore the spider was camoflauged)and he knew that the white flower was rare and attractive to the moth so there was more chance of the moth going to that flower.I think that thats what the flower had to do with being white.
    and I think that in the lines
    What but design of darkness to appall?–
    If design govern in a thing so small.
    It seems like he’s saying if such design govern in a thing so small (as a spider), just think of the evil design that could exist in greater things. Thats just what came to mind when I read it.

  21. JIMMY says:

    NOT BAd i liked how frost displays da spyder

  22. Griffin says:

    HAHA, none of you myopic poetry psychos regognized the inverted sonnet form the poem is written in. This shows that frost is trying to convey the “inverted” nature of…nature. Further proof that poetry is too abstract and intentionally vague to be a real art form.

  23. Sherwin says:

    This poem is reflective. It makes fearful images to life and turns negative images arround to a positive one. Nice poem!

  24. Gina says:

    This poem was written at the time when the concept of divine “design” was prevalent; this “design” is the ultimate control over life and death. Robert Frost, by portraying this gruesome scene of a spider devouring a moth as a beautiful, natural phenomenon, denies this concept and conveys his message that everything happens spontaneously and without any “design” behind it.

  25. Dave says:

    Frost in the poem “Design” builds on the literal natural situation to build an argument for critical and existential thought. The grand metaphor of the “small”-ness of the events compared to our own smallness and aloneness in the universe builds on ideas of life as meaningless. The poem certainly calls into question the existance of a god. Pascal said “the silence of these infinite spaces frighten me”… it seems to me that Frost is questioning these same ideas.

  26. theo files says:

    I believe this poem is showing everything happens for a reason, or as suggested by the title design.

  27. benosnje says:

    I think Frost is asking us to question stereotypes in this poem. “What had that flower to do with being white?” he asks, as if to be white demands living up to the stereotype of innocence. The drama and beauty of nature applies to creatures of all colors. The spider is no more guilty than the moth, no more evil. This is not a poem about good and evil, it is about nature and its equanimity. Though we think of black as the color of death, nature has no such bias.

  28. L says:

    From the very first line, the spider in Robert Frost’s Design is quite unusual. A white spider is something most people don’t see everyday meaning- pay attention to that detail. Is the intense irony of the all white flower, moth and spider just an incredible coincidence? White in this poem could be a symbol of purity or innocence. In the life process, nature just happens; making it pure and neutral. This situation makes the reader wonder how three very unusually colored beings are all interacting in the same place at the same time. The poem suggests “ultimate design”- that these three pure things, just going about their business, are not engaged in an evil practice but involved in something so much bigger than themselves. The three beings are engaged in this completely beautiful, intriguing and terrifying “ultimate design”. Frost could have made all of these things black- a symbol for all of the death and darkness that this event is. However, by choosing to make these beings white, the poet decides to play off the irony of three things, so pure of color committing an act so dark. The unintentional cruelty of nature is being displayed in this poem.

  29. Tenzin says:

    I think that Frost is trying to articulate that looks can be deceiving. I mean the moth, spider, and the flower are all described white in color which obviously signifies purity and innocence. Thus, the moth was deceived by this white appearance of the spider and got killed. Moreover, all of this took place on the white heal-all(flower).

  30. Brian says:

    This poem represents the idea of free thought versus Gods will. What or better yet, whose design would force a spider to eat a fly in order to survive. Was the stage set perfectly by an ultimate power or was everything by chance. The most intriguing aspect of the poem is the last line, as though suggesting the possibility of a non-existent diety.

  31. Nasir yousif says:

    The poem questions the classes differences.A rich powerful spider hunts a tiny small moth.This suggests that every thing in this world is up side down so that the flower is no lon ger symble of peace and love as it is used as stage where the act of killing and hunting take place.What behind all this is the power of darkness.

  32. Iman says:

    this poem”Design” is a beautiful poem by Robert Frost .
    i have ever seen such intresting poem like this one.
    we can compare this poem with “In White”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem better? If they are accepted, they will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.