The Struggle of Design v. Free-Will in Frost’s “Design” v. Bishop’s “The Fish”

Robert Frost and Elisabeth Bishop are outstanding poets whose work reveal the internal world and views of the authors. At the same time, their poems may reveal consistent differences in the view of the poets, whereas some poems, such as “Design” by Robert Frost and “The Fish” by Elisabeth Bishop raise important philosophic themes, such as the role of fate and design as opposed to free-will in human life. In this regard, “Design” and “The Fish” in allegorical and metaphorical forms represent the poets view on design and free-will, reveal the opposition, if not to say antagonism, in views of Frost, who is definitely a supporter of the concept of design, and Bishop, who is apparently supporter of the domination of free-will in human life and actions of people.

The opening of both poems prepare readers to the struggle of between a predator and a pray, which symbolize the opposition between a strong power and a weak creature. In case, of Frost’s “Design”, the spider personifies the manifestation of the strong power. A spider as a symbol of threat to an innocent and weak moth attacks its victim:

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

(Frost, 1-4)

However, the spider does nothing but perform its natural functions. The spider was created, conditioned to kill other creatures to survive. In such a way, the author gives the first hint concerning the supremacy of design in the life.

The beginning of “The Fish” is similar to that of “Design” for the fish is caught like a spider, it is weak and innocent:

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of its mouth.

(Bishop, 1-4)

The narrator is the strong power, but the narrator is human and is able to take decisions according to his or her free-will.

In face of death, victims of both spider and a fisherperson act in a similar way ”“ they do not resist, but they simply await for their death.

Frost shows clearly the acceptance of death by impersonal, weak and defenseless victim:

Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth –
A snow – drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

(Frost, 7-9)

The same model of behavior uses the fish in Bishop’s poem demonstrating its readiness to accept death just like the moth:

He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely.

(Bishop, 5-9)

However, the narrator feels admiration and respect to the victim who is ready to accept the death

I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
”” if you could call it a lip ””
grim, wet, and weaponlike”¦

(Bishop, 45-50)

Logan (124) explains such admiration of the narrator with its victim by the passivity of the forced beauty of the fish:

Here and there

his brown skin hung in strips

like ancient wallpaper,

and its pattern of darker brown

was like wallpaper:

shapes like full-blown roses

stained and lost through age.

(Bishop. 9-15)

In such a way, Bishop shows that victims can influence the strong power, whatever it is, human being or any other creature.

The difference in views of the poets becomes obvious at the end of both novles. Frost explains the reason of the death by design:

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.

(Frost, 11-14)

Watkins explains the devotion of Robert Frost to the idea of design as follows:

If design does govern such a small thing, then the universal plan can be only evil. If design does not govern here, the implication is that man is also created without design. God’s eye is no more on man than it is on the moth and the sparrow. (Watkins, 19).

In such a way, humans and other living beings become mere objects, who live their live in accordance to their fate, being conditioned to live in a particular way defined by the design.

In this regard, the ending of “The Fish” is totally different. The sense of victory is mixed up with pity and the narrator leaves the victim alive:

I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat”¦

”¦And I let the fish go.

(Bishop, 65-68, 76)

The latter action proves that the free-will of an individual but not the design or fate rules the world. Thus, the poets reveal their views on design and free-will and it is up to readers to decide which point of view they support.

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