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Just below you can find the poem and after that there is my critical analysis. I had written this as an assignment for school, however I think its preety good and definately interesting. I really hope you like it :)
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.
In this frightening poem, the poet questions some of our most basic beliefs about God. Firstly, Frost chooses to accurately describe a picture, possibly a scene he saw in one of his country walks, and then asks a series of philosophical questions, without expecting any answers. The picture the poet describes is of a “fat and white” spider which probably has finished a meal and is on a heal-all flower holding up a moth, which probably it will later consume. Frost compares these three ‘characters’ to a witches ingredients, ready to begin their rite (a pun for “right” in line 5). From here on, we can start seeing the disgust of the poet.
Whilst describing the spider, the mood of the persona can be described as rather good, however the tone slowly changes to become objective and detached and later on in the second stanza this changes to one of dismay and finally to one of agonized bewilderment.
‘Design’ is a sonnet made up of two stanzas, an octave and a sestet. It can be suggested that the design of this poem in this form is Frost’s last form of poetic irony for the strict format of the sonnet represents the internal argument of the poem. The poem can be structured into two phases. The first phase is the description of the picture while the second phase is from when the persona starts asking the philosophical questions. Here we find a Volta.
Frost chooses to use only a small number of words in the poem. These are mostly simple and this helps make the poem easier to follow. Especially in the first stanza, the diction used consists of a lot of adjectives and this greatly aids the reader to create a mental picture of the scene. Then in the second stanza the poet’s use of language becomes emotional when he is asking the questions. A climax is reached in line thirteen and fourteen:
“What brought the kindred spider to that height. Then steered the white moth thither in the night?”
Here the poet is clearly suggesting to us that the order of life is evil or non-existent (this would suggest that God does not exist). There is also a little irony in the fact that for the spider to live, it must kill the moth. For life to be sustained there must be death. This particular fact is what is causing so much confusion and horror in the mind of Frost, for it is written in the Genesis that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good”. In the last line, Frost tells us that he even had a doubt if there was ‘design’ in such small things as spiders and moths as if to counter his previous argument. However this cannot be taken too seriously because he is clearly affected by his emotions and so cannot reason properly.
Certainly, the poem makes impressive use of imagery. Frost uses the heal-all (which has an ironic name in the poem, because although it is a medicinal flower, death occurs on it), the spider and moth to symbolise how life works. Note all of these are described as white and this symbolises their innocence in the whole affair. Also, in order to help create a mental picture, the poet also makes use of similes “dead wings carried like a paper kite”. Furthermore, here both “wings” and “kite” suggest the idea of flight however the image of white “dead wings” moves toward paradox.
In my opinion this is a traditional poem, despite the fact that it was written by a modern poet. It can be noted that the first stanza is one continuous sentence, possibly suggesting the continuity in the order of life. The second stanza is a sestet and is made up of questions. This could probably symbolise the doubts each of us has on our religion and our existence.
To conclude, even though I do not agree with the argument he is putting forward, I still think this is an excellent poem from Frost, mainly because I was impressed by his skills to create so much doubt from just one simple, everyday scene. Also, in my opinion I also think that the title chosen is very appropriate to this poem, for it is a good attempt to prepare the reader mentally for what is to come.