Robert Frost

Norman Walker

Helen Smith, a great English teacher at Newton North in Newton, Mass., was for decades also the teacher in charge of The Newtonite, perhaps the best high school newspaper in the country. Though Helen retired this past year, she is still an active teacher, traveling the next two weeks to Kyrgyzstan where she teaches English, reading and writing to young and old from various Central Asian countries and China. These weeks she is emphasizing poetry, particularly Robert Frost's "Design," one of the best sonnets in the English language. The poem attached, following Frost's poem, is "Design of Darkness," a sonnet I wrote for Helen along with discussing ways to look closely at grammar, sonnet structure, figurative language, puns and any play on words.

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´ng
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 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.

Design of Darkness
by Norman Walker

I taught a thousand teens; now I have retired.
The children listened and learned like daughters and sons;
I showed them how to tackle words hot-wired
Full of pictures white, cut black with puns:

A spider ready to begin the mourning rite;
A witches' broth in Robert Frost's Design;
The dying heal-all; the dead moth Ś they make me write.
This sordid ordered death makes me resign.

This Greek sonnet offers deep "scratching" breath:
"Assorted characters" beg in the "blighted" morn.
Are they away from or towards the "wrought" death?
"Assorted" can mean "brought scattered", not born.

Frost raised four questions in the sextet of his poem;
The answer, design of darkness, will bring you home.


February, 2010