Written by Professor John Lye for the use of his students and other interested folk.


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 in 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 smal

-- Robert Frost

  1. what kinds of things can you say about this text?

    1. what systems enable you to speak?

    2. what or who authorizes you to speak, in what terminology, under what conditions?

    3. what constraints exist on what you can say? what kinds of things can you say to friends but not in this seminar? How come?

  2. in what categories of commentary can you speak?

    1. who or what authorized these categories?

    2. in what ways and on what grounds (with what understanding of knowledge and truth) are you allowed to say that the poem says something other than what it appears to say?

    3. who or what authorized you to call this "a poem" anyway?

  3. what does it mean to say that something is a poem: what does the statement say this thing can and can not do?

  4. does this poem serve to generate more discourse? If so, why?

  5. on what ground can you change what the text itself actually, literally says?

  6. under what regime(s) of knowledge do the statements in the poem regarding i) the natural world and ii) the human world make sense?

  7. what structure or circumstance of saying permits and controls your saying about that knowledge or about the poem as legitimate and meaningful?

  8. when Frost wrote this, what constraints existed on what he wrote, how he wrote it, and what language he used?

  9. when you say "Frost" what do you mean to indicate?

  10. what is the difference between the statements "Frost said that his poem is an attack on the illusory optimism of faith" and "Frost said he wrote this poem to fuck up the heads of the faithful"?

  11. what conception of discourse (and of knowledge) would make this text knowledge rather than opinion?

  12. what conception of discourse (and of truth) would make this poem prophesy?

  13. why is it okay -- legally, institutionally, morally, socially, and in the order of truth -- for me as your Professor to tell you that everything you have just said is wrong?

© John Lye 2005