August 26th, 2007

Design in a thing so small

Sissy Willis, she who finds beauty in unexpected places, has taken some wonderful photos of a Daddy longlegs netting a lacewing. For Sissy, whose background is in art and design, this conjures up some dance images, which she has posted side by side with her photos. Take a look.

I love those visuals, but for me her photos conjured up an association of a more literary sort: the words to Robert Frost’s “Design.” It’s one of the many poems that illustrate Frost’s complex dark side, and give the lie to his carefully honed image as an folksy avuncular Hallmark-greeting-card kind of guy.


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.

Lately a number of moths of the very large and almost-batlike variety have found their way into my house, only to die—but not at the hands of spiders, nor on flowers. As for lacewings, I haven’t had the honor of hosting one yet.

An entomologist might quibble with the different species involved in photos vs. poem, but an etymologist would be more interested in the evocative names “Daddy longlegs,” “lacewing,” and “heal-all.”

9 Responses to “Design in a thing so small”

  1. Ymarsakar Says:

    Also known as Vibrating or Cellar Spiders, members of the Pholcidae family live in houses and buildings. They make their untidy webs in the corner of a wall or a ceiling. They are also often found in the basement or cellar, thus being referred to by another common name as cellar spiders. When they are disturbed or when they are under a threat of attack, they start vibrating in their web violently to scare off and discourage their enemy.

    Sort of like Chavez, Amanie, the Islamic Jihad, etc.

  2. Sissy Willis Says:

    I love Ymarsaker’s comparison. The world of animal behavior is an endlessly rewarding source of figures of speech to illuminate the human condition. Thanks again, neo, for the lovely mention. I am currently enjoying a Neoneolanche at my blog.

  3. Sissy Willis Says:

    Ymarsakar, that is . . .

  4. Ymarsakar Says:

    Feel free to use Y or Ymar.

  5. camojack Says:

    Entomologist, etymologist…I keep getting those two mixed up.

    OK, not really, but like Willie Shakespeare said: “What’s in a name?”

  6. Ymarsakar Says:

    “What’s in a name?”

    The truth of who wrote Shakespeare’s works of course. Or did he think that it wouldn’t matter to us? ; )

  7. Harry Says:

    The last line of Design always reminds me of his other poems.

    The plight of the “small” vs. the “big” is a Frostian paradox that has its roots in questioning about our own place. See New Hampshire, look carefully in An Empty Threat, or in I Will Sing You One-O. But the finest example is where Frost puts his vast humor and wordsmithing together superbly in A Considerable Speck (Microscopic).

  8. sisu Says:

    Making nice…

    Blogfriend and frequent commenter Gayle Miller of And thought YOU were Cranky has tagged us with a Nice Matters Award for those that are just nice people, good [distaff] blogfriends and those that inspire good feelings and inspiration! Sugar and…

  9. Programming Tutorials Says:

    Programming Tutorials…

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article, but it sounds interesting…

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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