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 Robert Frost's poem Design


  1. 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!

  2. 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

  3. Tituba says:

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. JIMMY says:

    NOT BAd i liked how frost displays da spyder

  10. 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.

  11. Sherwin says:

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

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. theo files says:

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

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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).

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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”

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