Design Poem by Robert Frost Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


“Design” is a poem written by Robert Frost. It is a narration of a strange event witnessed by the poet and his internal musings that connect it to God. 

About the Poet:

Robert Frost (1874-1963) was an eminent American poet. He was the recipient of many awards, including receiving the Pulitzer Prize four times. Famous works of his include ‘The Road Not Taken’, ‘Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening’, and ‘Fire and Ice’. 


This poem is a Petrarchan sonnet, split into an octave containing 8 lines and a sestet containing 6 lines. It follows the rhyme scheme “abbaabba acaacc”.

Explanation of the Stanzas:


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.

The poem begins with the poet’s persona– whom one can here construe to be the poet himself– finding a spider. He described this spider as “dimpled” and “fat and white”. He states that it was perched “On a white heal-all” flower and had within its grasp “a moth”. The poet states that the way the spider held the moth was like it held “a white piece of rigid satin cloth”. He then rather drily remarks that his morning had begun “right” with a mixture of such “Assorted characters of death and blight”. He proceeds to compare this mixture to the “ingredients of a witches’ broth”. He ends this octave by once again highlighting the aforementioned “ingredients” – a “snow-drop spider”, a heal-all flower “like a froth”, and a moth whose “dead wings” were “carried like a paper kite” by the spider.  


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.

The sestet begins with the poet’s ruminations. He wonders why the heal-all flower here was “white” when it was supposed to be “wayside blue”. He wonders how the spider could have reached “that height” in the first place and what could have “steered” the moth that way “in the night”. He decides that this must have been some “design of darkness” conjured to “appall” anyone who chanced it– if such “designs” were even behind such trivial things. 


This is a deeply thought-provoking poem. It delves into how, as the age-old adage goes, indeed “God works in mysterious ways” – how even “a thing so small” in the world would be God’s doing, how the world functions because of the mysticism of God.