Monday, April 12, 2010

Whose Design is it Anyway?

One of my favorite poems is a deceptive sonnet by Robert Frost called “Design.” In the poem, Frost describes the coincidental combination of a white flower, a white spider, and an unfortunate moth, which is eaten by the spider. The jaunty tone and pacing of the poem belie these facts: (1) that it is written in a traditional poetic form, the Petrarchan sonnet, and (2) that Frost uses this tiny but violent natural accident to question the order, divine or otherwise, of the whole universe. In fact, the poem concludes with two devastating questions:

“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.

“Design” caused the famous critic Lionel Trilling to call Robert Frost “a terrifying poet,” and Trilling was right. Frost is saying in these lines that if there is a God, then He is a mean SOB. And if there isn’t a Power in charge, we have only violent chaos in all creation.

All of which leads to me to my haircut today (I know, some of you are thinking that it’s always about the dude’s haircut). Thanks to a valuable Great Clips coupon and a skilled technician named Natalie, I received the best $7.99 haircut a man can get in Modesto. At around 12:15PM, Natalie, whose own bleached-blonde hair stands at attention on the top of her head, was wrapping up her work on me, and I heard on the shop’s stereo someone request that Hawk 104.1 play “Hell’s Bells” by AC/DC. As I waited for the guitar riff to follow the chiming bells in the song’s intro, I saw in the mirror that the young woman who had been getting a haircut on the opposite side of the shop was now piling her own hair into a ball on the back of her head. She was (is) a person of the German Baptist persuasion, and she soon had fitted her cap on to her hair. All the while Brian Johnson warbled his incomprehensible song lyrics.

And I sat stunned by the Monday confluence of these incongruities.

What, after all, brought me to that Great Clips during the Hawk’s All-Request Lunch Hour? I have never heard the Hawk on the Great Clips radio. It’s usually tuned to something much more contemporary. Nor have I ever seen a German Baptist woman get her hair cut at a “salon.” Was it luck that Natalie was the available stylist when I walked in? Or that I just entered the shop before several other customers?

By the way, I know it could be that none of this matters, and yet I choose to believe that there is poetry in the world—by Design.

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