Chance Design: Frost Reframed

This morning I found this deceased dragonfly tucked away in this clivia, and I’m reminded of the poem “Design” 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--
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.

As I reread the second to last line of the Frost poem, I wonder why he thinks that the possibility of design that governs things so small is “dark” and “appalling”? I would think in his time, he’d think it was divine.

However, I’m not a proponent of the religious concept of intelligent design. Rather, I think that the earth’s stunning atmosphere and life forms came about by cells mindlessly dividing and multiplying over and over and over, failing constantly, until different things succeed. I think all this beauty and design is the result of infinite attempts at life– the result of chance– which eventually develops patterns that create life. Therefore, I don’t see chance and chaos as the enemy of order (as many seem to think — and as is often proposed in wonderful works of fiction like Gaiman’s The Sandman, as I discuss in my post, The Sandman: Allegory and Anthropocentrism. Rather, it’s chance and chaos are the zing of life– the thing that causes new life, new orders.

So, I’d like to substitute the words:

What brought the kindred dragonfly to this scene
then steered it into matching wings of green?
What but chance sublime,
If chance result in a thing so designed?