Study Guide

Design Quotes

  • Philosophical Viewpoints: Existentialism

    […] like a white piece of rigid satin cloth (3)

    Nothing says existentialism like a death shroud. This first description of the moth is obviously suggestive of death and gets the reader thinking about mortality and existence.

    What had that flower to do with being white (9)

    Frost wonders what essential part of that flower made it end up white. He is hoping that if he can uncover the key element of all these living things, that the scene—and all of existence—will make sense.

    What but design of darkness to appall?--(13)

    "Design of darkness" is both some great alliteration and a great way of suggesting that there's an evil genius pulling the strings of life somewhere. Why else would we encounter appalling things, like a spider munching a moth, or any number of Celine Dion's albums?

    If design govern in a thing so small. (14)

    Well, okay—maybe there's not some madperson running the show. But then again, that would mean… nobody is running the show. Who's steering this crazy bus called life anyway? It could be that nobody is in charge, and that explains why all this random nonsense just keeps happening.

  • Fate and Free Will

    Assorted characters of death and blight (4)

    Like the ingredients of a witches' broth (6)

    This allusion to Shakespeare's Macbeth pushes us back the other way in the fate debate. By referencing witches making a potion, Frost makes us think that something out there is purposefully collecting objects and events and forcing the outcomes.

    If design govern in a thing so small (14)

    The last line of the poem gives us a pretty terrifying "either/or" situation. Either there is no design to the universe and we are just out here on our own or design governs everything—even the most horrific events we can imagine. Can we take Option C?

  • Fear

    I found a dimpled spider, fat and white (1)

    The simple beginning seems like a cute nursery rhyme at first because of the sound and word choice, but it's actually pretty creepy. It's a bloated, mis-colored spider—nothing cute about that.

    Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth (3)

    This is the first (but not last) image of death in the poem. We picture the moth like a starched white funeral cloth over a coffin. Poor moth.

    What but design of darkness to appall (13)

    Frost's list of questions comes to its final and scary conclusion right here. Whatever brought these three things together in this bizarre scene, it had to be something that enjoys creating these fear-inducing nightmares—in other words: something a little twisted.

  • The Supernatural

    On a white heal-all, holding up a moth (2)

    Of all the flowers to pick, Frost chose a heal-all, a flower with a heavy supernatural vibe. It can be brewed into a drink and used to treat things like sore throats and fevers. Even more eerie, this heal-all is white—it's supposed to be blue.

    Like the ingredients of a witches' broth (6)

    The reference to Macbeth brings to mind the whole creepy list of things that get thrown into a cauldron, from "eye of newt" to "lizard's leg." In this poem, it hints at the possible control of supernatural forces.

    What brought the kindred spider to that height
    Then steered the white moth thither in the night? (11-12)

    The key words in these not-so-supernatural lines are "brought" and "steered." These verbs imply that something out there is arranging all our lives, orchestrating events for better or for worse.