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

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.

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