Explicatory Essay on Robert Frost’s “Design”

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Robert Frost’s “Design” is a beautiful short poem that vividly brings the reader into a simple concrete situation that contains a much deeper meaning of life and death. Indeed, Frost tells the story of witnessing a spider with its dead moth prey in a web made upon a white flower. The balance of the delicate, light, and beautiful flower and moth with the bewildering deadliness of the spider moves Frost to explore how such a contradiction could occur as part of the design of nature. By blending clear and evocative imagery of light and dark elements within a well-structured poem, Frost relays the theme of bewilderment over how life and death, light and dark, and beauty and terror are woven together in one simple moment of nature.

The form of “Design” is relatively simple, with just two stanzas, an interesting rhyme scheme, and a consistent meter. The rhyme scheme is indeed one of the most important aspects of “Design’s” form, and it varies by stanza, with the first stanza being ABBCCBBA, and the second stanza being ADCCDA. When written out like this, it is apparent that Frost has made a symmetrically reflecting rhyme scheme, with each stanza’s form reading the same from front to back. The meter and punctuation of the poem complement the rhyme scheme, as each line has either 10 or 11 syllables, and punctuation is used to add further symmetry to how the poem should be read. For instance, the first stanza is composed of three lines that are to be read in one statement, as punctuated by the ending of long dashes on lines three and six, which creates an effect of pacing the poem’s reading. The second stanza is similarly guided by punctuation, as seen in the coupling of two questions on lines 10 and 12.

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The most striking thematic aspect of “Design” is Frost’s attention on the play between light and dark in the poem, which serves to create a deeper reflection on aspects of good and evil. The first stanza is full of imagery referencing light aspects, in color, orientation, and other themes. For instance, Frost uses the word “white” three times in the beginning lines where he finds a “dimpled spider, fat and white,/On a white heal-all holding up a moth/Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth” (lines 1-3). In the same stanza, Frost describes the moth with its “dead wings carried like a paper kite,” which gives a further illustration of a lightness that is in the upper space of the air, as kites are generally light in form and theme as they usually grace the sky. Last, the flower and satin cloth are also light thematic objects in their own right, as flowers and satin cloth are seen as delicate and elegant rather than rough and dirty.

As for the darker imagery of the poem, Frost does not hide the fact that he is discussing the theme of death during the above explication of white-themed and other light imagery. For instance, Frost refers to the objects of the poem—the spider, the flower, and the moth—as “Assorted characters of death and blight,” and that mixed together these elements are like “ingredients of a witches’ broth” (lines 4, 6). The imagery of “death,” “blight” and a “witches’ broth” are indeed on the darker side. In the second stanza, when Frost begins to take a more inquisitive approach to the situation rather than an observational one, he wonders about the forces that appear to mercilessly have led the moth into the spider’s death trap by asking, “What but the design of darkness to appall?--/If design governs in a thing so small” (lines 15, 16). The word choice of “design of darkness to appall” reveals the darkness that unsettles Frost.

“Design” is motivated by the underlying theme of bewilderment and horror that Frost feels as he attempts to comprehend how the beauty and other light elements of the flower and moth could be positioned with the terrifying deadly power of the spider. Frost’s skill at juxtaposing light and dark imagery helps create the tension that underlies the meaning of the situation. Indeed, Frost is able to observe a particular scene of the world and identify its beauty, while also seeing and responding to the reality of death in the moment.

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Explicatory Essay on Robert Frost’s “Design”. (2023, November 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/explicatory-essay-on-robert-frosts-design/
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Explicatory Essay on Robert Frost’s “Design”. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/explicatory-essay-on-robert-frosts-design/> [Accessed 20 Apr. 2024].
Explicatory Essay on Robert Frost’s “Design” [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Nov 27 [cited 2024 Apr 20]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/explicatory-essay-on-robert-frosts-design/

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