What philosophical views are expressed in the sonnet "Design"? How can you tell?

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gbeatty's profile pic

gbeatty | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The broadest philosophical view in this sonnet is that in order there is meaning. This is communicated through the poem's final couplet, which underscore the meaning of design in large and small things alike. However, it can also be seen in the form of the poem. A sonnet is a highly structured poem, with evident and intentional order. This could imply a creator, but it could also indicate the anthropic principle (adapted from cosmology) in which humans see a specific order in the universe because we evolved that way.

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linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Here is the poem:

Design

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.

The most obvious "philosophy" is the notion of intelligent design. The word "design" is meant to make the reader think of God's design. If God designed the flower, the moth, and the spider, then God must also have designed for that blue wildflower (referred to as a "heal-all" for its medicinal properties; see the link below) to become entangled in the web to be a stool for the spider and for the moth to be trapped as well. Was it just chance that they came together, or was there a design to it?

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