Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Poetry, Uncategorized

A Personal Response to “Design” by Robert Frost – Jamie Tuohy

A Personal Response to “Design” by Robert Frost


  • I’m well aware that Frost came up last year and many students seem to ignore poets based on that very reason.
  • This is one thing I would never do; in fact, it’s the opposite of what I’d do.
  • Never rely on predictions! Every student in the country expected Wordsworth to come up last year – he was ‘guaranteed’ and the audible gasps of horror around the exam hall when we received the paper were the all too obvious inclinations that many students had relied on predictions. NEVER ASSUME YOUR TEACHER’S PREDICTIONS ARE GOSPEL.
  • In 2010 and 2011, there were questions on Yeats and way back in 2001 and 2002, Bishop and Longley made appearances on the paper in both years.
  • When it comes to Leaving Cert English, be prepared and expect the unexpected. Cover all bases.
  • This is a little post on “Design” by Robert Frost – a close study if you will, which will allow you to see the kind of points you should be making in your own personal response question.

“Design by Robert Frost is a deeply metaphorical poem in which he portrays the destructiveness of nature and questions God’s grand design. In this poem, Frost presents the dark face of the natural world through which he expresses that evilness is an innate part of nature. In saying this, Frost demonstrates the possibility that there is no grand plan governing the universe and that everything exists and arises simple from a preordained design.

The poem is appealing for its use of unusual and ironic imagery which is extremely thought-provoking. “Design” is written in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet and the octet is dominated by the image of the spider engulfing a moth. Frost says

 “I found a dimple spider, fat and white on a white heal-all”.

This is a paradoxical image, as we usually associate white with innocence and purity, however, in this instance, it’s representative of death and deception. I feel that through this image, Frost is communicating the destructive aspect of nature and highlighting its unforgiving qualities.

In the sestet, there is a change of mood and a departure from the vivid and descriptive imagery of the octet. Frost queries why such a thing would happen. He says

“what brought the kindred spider to that height then steered the white moth thither to the night?”

This is an extremely effective line, as, in my opinion, it exemplifies how this was meant to happen – there’s nothing contrived about the scene, because its brutality and cruelty is a testament of reality. It’s almost like the flower and the spider have conspired to trap the moth, thus underscoring how everything that happened was by ‘design’.

However, the poem closes with Frost saying

 “what but design of darkness to appal? If design govern in a thing so small.”

There is an underlining pessimism and scepticism to these lines, as Frost questions whether or not life is predestined and led by a design which has been created by something beyond human stature. I enjoyed reading this poem, not least for the unusual and vivid imagery, but moreover for the way in which it provokes thought and offers us insights into the human experience.




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