Robert Frost “Design” & “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep” A Terrifying Poet
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One critic, Lionel Trilling, once went against public opinion in relationship to Robert Frost in that he stated that he thought Robert Frost was a “terrifying poet.” Most people of the time considered Frost a wonderful, not terrifying, poet. The following paper examines how and why Frost could be seen as a terrifying poet through his poems “Design” and “Neither Out Far Nor in Deep”. For the most part, when speaking of nature and the manner in which Frost presents his own perspective of nature, the poem “Design” is a wonderfully beautiful poem that can make a person rise above a disgust of things like spiders. But, in all honesty there are many images that speak of simple terrifying realities and it is not limited to the tangible objects spoken about in “Design” or the vastness in “Neither Out Far nor In Deep.”

The very first line in “Design” can send shivers down a persons spine as Frost writes simply and realistically of “a dimpled spider, fat and white” (pg. 221, l. 1). Because it is a spider, not something else that would be pleasant if it were dimpled, fat, and white (such as a peeled potato or even Santa Claus) this image is possibly quite terrifying. Spiders are not a type of creature that is looked upon as being something to cherish as the tone of this poem emphasizes. Spiders are an arachnid that spins webs for the capture of insects for food and simply the thought of spiders are a reminder of arachnophobia.

The very flower that this spider is sitting upon is presented as the color white in this poem, but usually a heal-all wildflower has a violet-blue blossom and appears on the outside, spiky and hairy. Visually the flower resembles an open mouth leading into a throat, its name comes from its possibility for medical use, but like the spider it represents death by bite, and unlike the spider it represents healing through medicine. Robert Frosts calm tone in presenting this image, and images throughout the poem, can be very terrifying.

Frost states how “Assorted characters of death and blight/ Mixed ready to begin the morning right” (ll. 4-5). This sounds like a childrens rhyme and as such would seem pleasant but the imagery is of blight and death and then it presents such images as though they are what make life, the morning, right and correct. One could well envision a sense of insanity when trying to find anything but the terrifying in such a pattern of rhyme and imagery. The rhyming scheme though does remind us of childhood which is often associated with old age because people close to death are said to come back to their childhood perceptions. One could even envision a mind similar to that of Edgar Allen Poe, although far more subtle and subversive in getting this terrifying image across.

Perhaps the most important part of this poem is the question asked in the end: “What but design of darkness to appall?-/ If design govern in a thing so small” (ll. 13-14). There are many things that can be terrifying. Who has control of our lives? Is it at all possible to say that all of these simple white things came together by pure coincidence? Or is there something greater? Christians dont believe in coincidences. There is the power of fate and the ideal that God has everything already mapped out for you. Is God the design in this poem? Or is it coincidence that is the most terrifying for this dark incident?

In the poem “Neither Out Far nor In Deep” there is the imagery of powerful and tangible truth that indicates most people cannot accept truth. They cannot look out too far, or too deeply, for they are unable to face truth. Narrow mindedness seems to overcome the people represented in this poem and their lack of desire for the tangible. While this may not seem like a frightening, much less “terrifying” imagery, one can look at Frosts poem and feel a sense of the terrifying in this fact. There isnt anything tangible to be afraid of as there was in the poem “Design.”

In the opening lines Frost notes how “The people along the sand/ All turn and look one way” (pg. 220, ll. 1-2). They do not notice that the land behind them may change, or they may not notice anything if it is too far away. They are looking in only one direction when

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Robert Frost And Very Flower. (April 3, 2021). Retrieved from