Analysis of the Design by Robert Frost

Robert Frost was born in March 26, 1874 in San Francisco. His life saw the passage of the United States of America through the reconstruction era, the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. It includes the rise of industrialization and the resulting surge of immigration.

In the poem Design, Frost raises profound issues related to the creation, nature, perception and event artistry. Frost explores ‘design’ in its many faceted meaning: as plan or art or pattern and plot or evil attempt. The poem is written in the Petrarchan sonnet form. 

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Deep end analysis of the poem:


Design generally means a plan for the structure and functions of an artifact, building or system. When it comes to religion, it is about god’s making of the world and its inhabitants. The title without any article suggests that this poem is about the creation of god itself.


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


1st person narration: in the octave the ideas are shown as a personal experience, might be an experience of Frost himself.

Visual imagery: a dimpled spider, fat and white, white heal-all, blight

Tactile imagery: piece of rigid satin cloth (the reader feels the soft rigidness of the dead moth)

Simile: like a white piece of cloth

Symbol: White (White color suggests the purity and innocence: the reader might be confused why and what is innocent, what is innocent? The answer is whole three things: spider, moth and heal all flower. Further, the intention of the spider is too innocent though seems to be evil. How possibly? The answer is: that is how they are designed, the spider is designed to live by hunting and that is its nature; its intention is pure as it needs food to survive, it cannot help it though we see the action as evil. That is how it is designed which is not the fault of spider, right?)

Irony: heal all, white spider (though the flower is given the name as heal all, it cannot heal the moth and spider seen as friendly and pure but its action is evil)

Juxtaposition: death and blight, spider and white satin clothe (two different things put together to compare and contrast.)

Anthropomorphism/ personification: dimpled spider (spider is given human quality, usually dimples are found on the human face)

Enjambment and caesura: Enjambment means breaking the natural order of a line into second line whereas caesura depicts line split in half sometime with a punctuation and sometime not.  

Rhyme scheme: Octave – ABBAABBA, Sestet – ACAACC

Tone: Teasing and light hearted.


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.


simile: like the ingredients of a witches’ broth, flower like a froth, dead wings carried like a paper kite.

allusion: witches’ broth (We find witches’ broth in the Shakespearean play – Macbeth. The witches’ broth is filled with ugly and evil things which are used for witchcraft. The poet compares the design to the witches’ broth: suggesting that the design is itself contaminated by evil intentions.)

visual imagery: a snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth

kinesthetic imagery: dead wings carried like a paper kite.

alliteration: flower like a froth



In the octave, Frost creates an eerie atmosphere just before the dawn. Here he teases the mind of the reader showing an ordinary situation in a way that confuses the mind of the reader. His presentation of imagery, symbols and colors is seemingly opposite to the traditional way of interpretation. He through everything seems to question the conventional thought of creation: that god made everything on the world. He points out that the creation is itself based on evil intentions. The spider kills an innocent moth on a heal all but the flower cannot help the moth. By coloring all three in white color, Frost implies the helplessness of them as they have been designed in such a way that they cannot behave otherwise. That is how they are made! As mentioned earlier, the spider has to kill to survive. Therefore, Frost argues that it is not the fault of them but the creation. So he declares that the creation is itself filled with evil. On the other hand, we can counter argue that god has done this to maintain the balance of nature which is necessary to sustain the life on the world.   


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.


Metaphor/ alliteration: design of darkness (Poet directly address the creation as design of darkness implying that the creation of god is not pure but evil)

Anthropomorphism/ personification: kindred spider (suggesting the spider as a relative giving an animal a human quality)

Synecdoche: what is seen as design is only a part of a whole, the whole evil design of nature, life or creation

Tone: in the sestet tone changes into a serious, thinking and ironic puzzlement

Rhyme: the of deviation from original Petrarchan sonnet sestet suggest the puzzlement of the poet about the design.

Provocative questions: the questions asked by the poet seems do not have answers even for hispart. The questions stimulate the reader to think about the actual cause of creation itself.



In the sestet Frost questions that: who writes the plot of this wicked play of death; How come that scene plotted so perfectly for the moth to come and meet spider and to be killed on the heal-all? He accuses that the design is itself filled with darkness which creates fear and uncertainty on every living being. He questions in last two lines: What can helpless do if the design itself created to function in a dark manner and in a that kind of world isn’t everybody vulnerable? His argument is: if the world is designed to kill and the power of healing has no power to cure, that kind of design is itself haunted by fear and evil.

Robert Frost shows a small picture through a peep-hole and lets the reader to adjust it to a bigger frame of human world. Through the poem his intention may be to show the reality and uncertainty of life which is a universal truth that everyone has to accept. It is the nature of the world that manifests the good and bad which is a necessary to keep the balance of life. So, can we accuse god for making such a world? On the other hand, though the intention of god is pure, god cannot take the responsibility as his creation violates and interprets it in other ways.

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  1. I really loved this analysis bcuz it really gave the bottled up idea universally in a nutshell ..keep it up great road always lead the greatest 😊

    1. Thanks. A great task always backed up by great admirers like you.

    2. I read all the A/L poem analysis which is given by you sir. Thank you for making it ease to study.

  2. What a brilliant analysis! Keep up the great work 🙏

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