Design Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Since he alludes to the New Testament book of Matthew elsewhere in his poetry, Frost certainly had read Matthew 10:29: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” He was familiar, therefore, with the tradition of an omniscient and omnipotent God. He surely had read Job’s impassioned questioning of God’s purpose. In addition, Frost taught the philosophy of William James to students at Plymouth Normal School in New Hampshire, and in James’s Pragmatism is the statement: “Let me pass to a very cognate philosophic problem, the question of design in nature.” This text may or may not have served as Frost’s source for the poem. In any event, Frost, like poets that preceded and followed him, was skeptical about the extent to which the Creator was benign, and he wondered about the degree of his involvement with his creations.

For example, William Blake in “The Tyger” (1794) wonders whether the same God could create both the fierce and the gentle; he asks the tiger, “Did he who made the lamb make thee?” In Thomas Hardy’s “An August Midnight” (1899), a spider symbolizes evil in God’s design. In Robert Lowell’s “Mr. Edwards and the Spider” (1946), the black widow represents the damned soul. On the other hand, in Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider” (1891), the creature is benign.

Frost is expressing a sense of bewilderment felt by...

(The entire section is 420 words.)