Design: Poetry and Frost

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In “Design” Robert Frost utilizes a Petrarchan or Italian sonnet. Originally sonnets were written almost exclusively as love poems during the Renaissance. By Frost’s time the Petrarchan sonnet was used for a wide variety of subjects. “Design” is no exception as Frost contemplates very significant concepts in the poem such as coincidence, fate, design, and the existence of a higher power. It is fitting that Frost adopts the rigid form of an Italian sonnet to discuss these ideas of order and fate. A Petrarchan sonnet consists of an octet and a sestet written in iambic pentameter and unlike in blank verse there is a consistent end rhyme. The rhyme scheme in “Design” follows an abbaabba pattern in the octet and then adopts a bcbbcc order in the sestet continuing to use the same end rhymes from the octet e.g. white and height. Here Frost breaks away slightly from the traditional Italian sonnet rhyme scheme that usually consists of a cdcdcd or cddcdc pattern in the sestet. The Italian Sonnet contains a Vaulta or “turn” between the two stanzas, or “rooms” in Italian, that shifts the tone or subject of the poem in a different direction from the opening octet. This separation of the two stanzas helps reinforce the content of the poem by physically breaking up the thoughts of the speaker in an organized and orderly fashion which itself in a way speaks to the subject of design being considered in the poem. Frost implements this structure of an Italian sonnet to emphasize the notable shifts in tone of the speaker between the first and second stanzas. The poem begins with the octet as the speaker reflects on an interesting event he saw in nature with the tone of an observer recreating the images of the white spider and flower for the reader. At the Vaulta or “turn” Frost changes the tone of the speaker as he ceases to recreate his observations in the octet and instead begins to ask questions and adopts a more dark and philosophical outlook in the sestet. Frost’s...
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