Design - 1936 In White - 1912
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white, 1 A dented spider like a snow drop white
On a White Heal-all, holding up a moth On a white Heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth - Like a white piece of lifeless satin cloth -
Assorted characters of death and blight Saw ever curious eye so strange a sight?
Mixed ready to begin the morning right, 5 Portent is little, assorted death and blight
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth - Like the ingredients of a witches' broth? -
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth, The beady spider, the flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite, And the moth carried like a paper kite.
What had the flower to do with being white, What had the flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all? 10 The blue prunella every child's delight.
What brought the kindred spider to that height, What brought the kindred spider to that height?
Then steered the white moth thither in the night? (Make we no thesis of the miller's plight)
What but design of darkness to appall? - What but design of darkness and of night?
If design governs in a thing so small. Design, design! Do I use the word aright?
There are two different version of Robert Frost's poem "Design" in publication: both the poem "Design", written in 1936, and an earlier draft titled "In White" that was written 24 years earlier in 1912. By studying the similarities and differences between these two poems, we can gain insight into the process Frost used to write poems, the themes behind "Design," and perhaps gain insight into the mind of Frost himself.
This essay will take a close look at three main topics. First, it will look at the similarities between the drafts. Then, it will go over some of the simple changes made between the drafts. Finally, we will take a deeper look into some of the more complex and thematic differences between the two drafts of "Design."
Even at a first glance, the reader can see that these are two drafts of the same poem. It deals with the same subject matter, and is written in the same form with the same number of lines and identical stanza breaks. In fact, many of the lines are almost, if not completely identical.
Both poems deal with the same event, a simple coincidence that Frost witnessed: a white spider standing on a white flower holding a white moth. This coincidence made Frost speculate at a "design of darkness," and marvel at the simple sight of a splotch of white in a field of blue flowers.
Besides being about the same subject, the two drafts are laid out almost identically. Both versions take the form of an Italian sonnet, although the rhyme scheme in the second stanza differs slightly between the poems.
The two drafts also use much of the same formal language and imagery, also. For example, both drafts refer to the dead moth as a "paper kite" and the spider as a snow drop, and both make an allusion a witches' broth.
These similarities do more than just make it clear that these are two different drafts of a same poem; the similarities help to highlight the differences. The reader is left to wonder why Frost chose to make the changes he made, while keeping much of the poem unchanged.
Some of the differences between the poems are very simple. Many are simply slightly altered wordings that help the poem to flow better. For instance, Frost changed the description of the spider from "a dented spider" to a "dimpled spider" in line one. Similar changes are made in lines three, eight, and 13.
These changed are most likely nothing but simple editorial changes that Frost made because he thought that the poem flowed and sounded better with these revisions. Perhaps Frost decided that "dead wings carried like a paper kite" made a better image than "the moth carried like a better kite," and simple thoughts like these prompted most of the revisions.
It would be a mistake, however, to attribute every change to part of the editorial process, however. There are several very significant changes in the final version that subtly change the themes of the poem. After all, what would cause a poet to go back and revise a poem written 24 years earlier if he didn't have some important changes to make?
One important change in the elimination of line four ("Saw ever curious eye so strange a sight?") in the final draft. Through this line, Frost expresses wonder and amazement over the coincidence, an amazement that is somewhat lacking in the final draft. It seems that a quarter of a century, Frost is no longer astounded by this coincidence, although he does still find it significant, and worth publishing a poem about.
Another significant change is in the last two lines of each poem. In "Design," Frost ends on a somewhat meditative and contemplative note with "What but design of darkness to appall?- / If design govern in a thing so small." The last lines of "In White," however, while they say essentially the same thing, seems far from introspective and meditative. Frost ends "In White" with "What but design of darkness and of night? / Design, design! Do I use the word aright?" This closing seems unlike a contemplative question and instead has the quality hysterical shriek to the sky. From the last lines of "In White," the reader my infer that Frost was rattled, perhaps even frightened by this event and its implications in 1912.
It seems likely, by looking at the last two lines of the early draft that the spider, the moth, and the heal-all may have been images that constantly occupied Frost's mind for years after he wrote "In White." Perhaps viewing this coincidence set off questions about fate and design in Frost's mind that it took him years to resolve, and when he finally did, he was able to revise his initial poem to reflect his less troubled state of mind.
Through a careful study of the two drafts, one can gain insight not only into the poem itself, but also into Robert Frost. Literature not only tells a story about the characters, but also about ourselves, and about the authors. I believe "In White" and "Design" are excellent examples of this concept. By being able to read two drafts of a poem written years apart, we can not only gain insight on a snapshot of Robert Frosts life, but we can also extrapolate the changes and thoughts he may have had over the years between these two poems.
Final paper for English 105, Winter Quarter, 2001
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