Essay about Robert Frost's Design

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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.

Design 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
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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

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