Wednesday, April 09, 2008


by Robert Frost

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.

* * *

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted. Chances are people aren't even bothering to check anymore ... it's just that my thesis, and even more, student teaching, have kept me tremendously busy.

This poem is a counterexample to the idea that Frost's poetry is too optimistic and facile. In fact, many of his poems are deeply pessimistic. His happy nature poems have been the most popular, but they were far from all he wrote.

Here, Frost ponders the "co-incidence" of these three white things, a flower, a moth, and a spider. Can it really be coincidence? If it is design, that suggests a darker side to the one who designs it--for there is nothing uplifting about a spider feeding on its prey. Or does design really govern little things like this?

My answer is simply that design does govern even tiny things--like that line in the Silmarillion about those who consider only the vastness of the works of the Valar and not their fineness: to be truly great, an intelligence has to reach not only the vast, whirling stars but also each tiny speck of dust. But it is not the task of "design" (we can start saying God, here, I guess--we all know that's what it means, right?) to make sure things are always "uplifting." The mystery of sin in the world is a part of all this, of course. God's task in so much of creation is simply keeping us from completely destroying ourselves. It is our sin (I think--in a mysterious way) that taught the spider to eat the moth. But knowing that the spider needed this food, God really did guide the moth to its web. And in a larger design, God guided Frost to the same flower to ponder His design, that Frost's poem might inspire me to write this blog post today and maybe start someone thinking about the nature of evil and the goodness of God.

Makes you feel kind of small, doesn't it? But at the same time, very greatly cared for.

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