Get notes, line-by-line explanation, summary, questions and answers, critical analysis, word meanings, extras, and pdf of the poem “A Considerable Speck” by Robert Frost, which is part of ICSE Class 10 English (Treasure Chest: A Collection of ICSE Poems and Short Stories). However, the notes should only be treated as references, and changes should be made according to the needs of the students.
The speaker describes a tiny speck he notices moving across a sheet of paper he is writing on. At first, he thinks it is just a dust speck blown by his breath. On closer inspection, he realises it is actually a living mite, moving with its own inclinations. The mite pauses suspiciously at the speaker’s pen, then races wildly towards the still wet ink on the page. It pauses again, seeming to drink or smell the ink, before turning to flee in apparent disgust.
The speaker remarks on how the mite seems too tiny to have a full set of feet, yet it clearly does since it can walk and express a desire to live. The mite runs in terror and creeps cunningly across the page. It hesitates, as if trying to decide what to do.
It then cowers down in the middle of the sheet, accepting its fate at the hands of the speaker. The speaker reflects that he does not have the “tenderer-than-thou” collectivist mentality of the modern world that loves to destroy en masse. Since the mite has done no harm, he decides to let it be, hoping it will fall asleep on the page.
The speaker concludes by affirming that he recognises and appreciates the presence of “mind” wherever he encounters it, however humble the guise. He is glad for even the smallest display of mind.
Line-by-line explanation of the poem
A speck that would have been beneath my sight / On any but a paper sheet so white
The poet notices an extremely tiny speck on the bright white paper he is writing on. It is so tiny and diminutive in size that under normal circumstances, it would be invisible to him and completely beneath his ability to detect. The only reason he is able to discern the minuscule speck at all is because the paper providing the backdrop is such a stark, brilliant white. This high contrast between the bright white paper and the tiny dark speck is what allows it to barely be perceptible to him.
Set off across what I had written there. / And I had idly poised my pen in air / To stop it with a period of ink
As the poet is writing on this sheet of paper, he suddenly notices the tiny speck moving across the page, crawling over the words he had previously written down. At this moment, the poet’s pen was casually hovering in the air over the paper, as he had paused his writing briefly and left the pen temporarily suspended mid-air. He was just about to finish the sentence he had been writing by putting down a final period mark of ink as the terminating punctuation.
When something strange about it made me think, / This was no dust speck by my breathing blown, / But unmistakably a living mite
Just as the poet is about to set his pen back to paper, the movement of the tiny speck catches his attention. Some quality seems curious and strange about the way it is crawling across the page. This makes the poet stop and consider the speck more intentionally, sparking his thoughts about it. Upon closer observation and contemplation, the poet realizes this little speck is not just a random bit of dust that had wafted across the page carried by his own breathing as he wrote. Rather, he discerns that the speck is definitively a living mite traversing the page.
With inclinations it could call its own. / It paused as with suspicion of my pen, / And then came racing wildly on again
Moreover, as the poet watches the mite creep across the page, he perceives that it is not simply blowing aimlessly but moving with self-directed purpose, following its own inclinations. The tiny mite pauses momentarily in what seems like an apprehensive cessation to examine the poet’s pen still poised above. After this brief hesitation, the mite resumes scurrying rapidly, wildy racing across the page once more.
To where my manuscript was not yet dry; / Then paused again and either drank or smelt– / With loathing, for again it turned to fly.
The energetic mite scampers over to the part of the manuscript where the poet had recently written, and the ink remains damp and not yet dried. Reaching this moist ink, the mite pauses briefly again. During this second hesitation, it seems to either drink some of the liquid ink or smell and investigate its scent. However, the mite appears to despise and recoil from the ink’s flavor or odor. After examining the wet ink, it quickly whirls around once more to retreat away from the noxious substance.
Plainly with an intelligence I dealt. / It seemed too tiny to have room for feet, / Yet must have had a set of them complete
Through observing the mite’s self-motivated movements and interactions, the poet concludes he is clearly witnessing an intelligent creature acting intentionally, not just a mindlessly drifting speck. The mite is so unimaginably minute that it doesn’t seem possible it could contain space for a full set of feet within its microscopic form. Yet somehow within its diminutive body, the mite does indeed possess an entire functioning set of feet needed to traverse the page.
To express how much it didn’t want to die. / It ran with terror and with cunning crept. / It faltered: I could see it hesitate;
The way the mite actively darts about reveals a strong inborn will to survive and evade death. It runs with an urgency suggesting fear, but also moves with the careful cunning of an instinctual hunter. The poet sees the mite falter, hesitating in an uncertain, wavering manner, as if internally deliberating what to do next.
Then in the middle of the open sheet / Cower down in desperation to accept / Whatever I accorded it of fate.
After exhibiting that moment of hesitant indecision, the mite ends up frozen in the very center of the blank open page. It seems to crouch down low against the paper in desperate surrender, willing to accept whatever fate the poet now chooses to deal out.
I have none of the tenderer-than-thou / Collectivistic regimenting love / With which the modern world is being swept.
At this climactic moment, the poet declares he does not personally possess a sentimental, excessively gentle nature, nor any oppressive variety of “collectivist” love that tries to control everything according to specific regulations. He criticizes this totalitarian kind of “love” which he sees as currently overtaking the modern world.
But this poor microscopic item now! / Since it was nothing I knew evil of / I let it lie there till I hope it slept.
However, observing this particular helpless, tiny mite pitiably poised before him, and given that it has done no evident harm, the poet decides not to interfere with it. He chooses to leave the mite alone on the page undisturbed, hoping it will fall asleep there in peace.
I have a mind myself and recognize / Mind when I meet with it in any guise / No one can know how glad I am to find / On any sheet the least display of mind.
In conclusion, the poet declares that he himself possesses intelligence and imagination. He is able to perceive those same faculties of intellect and creativity when he encounters them manifesting through any living being. No one else can fully understand the happiness the poet feels when he discovers even the smallest exhibition of imagination or inventive thought on a written page.
speck: a tiny spot or fleck
idly: lazily, not busily
poised: held suspended; balanced
mite: a very small insect or arachnid
inclinations: natural tendencies or preferences to act in certain ways
manuscript: a handwritten document or text
loathing: intense dislike or disgust
cunning: skillful aptitude; craftiness
crept: moved stealthily and carefully
faltered: hesitated; wavered
hesitate: pause due to uncertainty
open sheet: blank paper space
cower: crouch down in fear or submission
desperation: hopeless resignation; despair
accorded: allowed; granted
fate: destiny or outcome
tenderer-than-thou: excessively gentle or sentimental
collectivistic: focused on group control rather than individualism
regimenting: strictly controlling according to rules
microscopic: extremely tiny; visible only by microscope
guise: form; manifestation
About the author
Robert Frost (1874-1963) is considered one of the most prominent and influential American poets of the 20th century. He was born in San Francisco but moved to New Hampshire as a boy when his father died. He attended Dartmouth College briefly before returning to work on farms and in factories.
Though he was initially unsuccessful at publishing his poems, Frost persevered and eventually found acclaim with collections like A Boy’s Will (1913) and North of Boston (1914).
He went on to win four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry over the course of his lifetime, a record unsurpassed to this day. Frost was made Poet Laureate of Vermont in 1916 and served as a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress later in life.
His works such as “The Road Not Taken,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and “Mending Wall” have become classics.
Additional/Extra questions and answers
1. What does the poet first notice on the sheet of paper?
Answer: The poet first notices a tiny speck on the sheet of paper.
2. Why is the poet able to see the speck on the white sheet of paper?
Answer: The poet is able to see the tiny speck because of the high contrast between the bright white paper and the small dark speck, which allows it to be visible against the stark white background.
3. Describe the movements and actions of the speck as observed by the poet.
Answer: The poet observes the speck moving back and forth across the page in a purposeful, self-directed manner. It pauses warily near his pen, races wildly across the page, pauses by the wet ink to smell or taste it, then recoils in apparent disgust and resumes running across the page.
4. What realisation does the poet come to about the identity of the speck? What in the speck’s behaviour led him to this conclusion?
Answer: The poet realises the speck is not just a random dust particle but rather a living mite, based on its intentional, intelligent-seeming movements like pausing to examine objects and recoiling from the ink. Things like its wariness about the pen and expressed disgust at the ink led the poet to conclude he was seeing a living creature.
5. Why does the poet remark, “Plainly with an intelligence I dealt” about the mite? Explain.
Answer: The poet concludes he is clearly dealing with an intelligent creature, not just an inanimate speck, because of observations like the mite cautiously investigating objects like his pen, purposefully seeking out the wet ink, recoiling after apparently not liking the taste or smell of the ink, and other motions that seem intentional. All these actions suggest the mite has some capacity for perception, reasoning, and decision-making, rather than just moving randomly.
6. How does the mite express its desire to live, according to the poet?
Answer: The poet says the mite expresses its strong desire to live through the way it actively darts about, suggesting an inborn drive to survive and evade death.
7. What conflicting qualities does the poet see exhibited in the mite’s movements?
Answer: The poet observes conflicting qualities like terror and cunning in the mite’s movements. It runs with hurried fear, like it wants to escape, but also creeps carefully as if hunting. It shows both hesitation and instinctual purpose.
8. Why do you think the poet anthropomorphizes the mite by describing it in human emotional terms? What effect does this have? Explain.
Answer: By anthropomorphizing the mite using emotional terms like “terror” and “desperation,” the poet creates a sense of empathy and universality – the mite’s struggle becomes symbolic of mortal nature in general. Describing its emotions creates a vivid drama and a sense that complex feelings can exist even in a tiny creature.
9. How does the poet characterise his own temperament? What is he critical of in the modern world? Explain.
Answer: The poet characterises himself as neither excessively gentle/sentimental nor inclined towards oppressive collectivist control. He criticises the totalitarian sort of “love” that tries to regulate everything, suggesting he values individualism and freedom. His restraint towards the mite reveals a libertarian respect for all life/mind.
10. Why does the poet ultimately choose to leave the mite alone?
Answer: The poet chooses not to interfere with the mite because it has done no harm, and he does not wish to destroy a life meaninglessly.
11. What aspect of the mite does the poet particularly value? Why?
Answer: The poet values the spark of creativity/imagination he sees expressed even in the mite. He is glad to find even a tiny display of “mind” and intellect in any form, as he admires creativity.
12. In your view, what is the core message or theme of the poem?
Answer: The core theme is about appreciating imagination and intellect wherever they are found, however small. The poet is moved by creativity and thought even in a microscopic mite, revealing a reverence for life and mind in all manifestations. The mite represents the capacity for consciousness.
13. With close reference to the poem, analyse the poet’s attitude towards the mite. How does his attitude evolve over the course of the poem? Explain.
Answer: At first, the poet is curious about the speck, then intrigued as he realises it is a living creature. He becomes impressed by the signs of intelligence in it and sympathetic to its struggle. Finally, he shows merciful restraint, letting it be because he respects even its tiny spark of creativity. His attitude evolves from curiosity to admiration to empathy.
14. What do you think the mite symbolises in the poem? Why?
Answer: The mite seems to symbolise the human imagination or capacity for thought. Despite its microscopic size, the poet sees creativity, intellect, and will in it just as in any conscious being. It represents the concept of “mind.”
15. How does the poet convey his appreciation for displays of creativity and imagination in the concluding lines? Explain.
Answer: In the concluding lines, the poet strongly conveys his wonder and “gladness” at finding even the smallest exhibition of “mind” in a living being or a text. His intense joy at glimpsing imagination and intellect, symbolised by the mite, underscores his supreme valuation of creativity.
16. What is distinctive about the poet’s writing style in this poem? Cite examples from the poem in your response.
Answer: The poet’s writing style is very informal, candid, and accessible. He uses everyday diction and syntax as if observing the mite naturally in real time. The lack of overt poetic devices makes his appreciation of the mite seem unmediated and sincere. Phrases like “made me think,” “didn’t want to die,” and “cower down” have a colloquial immediacy.
17. What is the significance of the poet titling the poem “A Considerable Speck” when it is about a tiny mite? Explain.
Answer: The irony and contradiction of calling the miniscule mite “considerable” highlights the poet’s deeper meaning – that the mite’s exhibition of consciousness makes it significant. Though physically small, its display of “mind” has greater philosophical meaning for the poet.
1. What does the poet first notice moving across his paper?
A. An ant B. A dust speck C. A gnat D. A mite
Answer: D. A mite
2. Why is the poet able to notice the tiny speck?
A. The speck is actually quite large B. The paper is bright white C. He has excellent vision D. The speck is moving slowly
Answer: B. The paper is bright white
3. What does the speck do when it reaches the poet’s wet ink?
A. Ignores it and keeps moving B. Rolls in it happily C. Eats some of it D. Hesitates and pulls away
Answer: D. Hesitates and pulls away
4. Which line from the poem BEST summarizes the poet’s central message?
A. “This was no dust speck by my breathing blown” B. “It seemed too tiny to have room for feet” C. “No one can know how glad I am to find” D. “With loathing, for again it turned to fly”
Answer: C. “No one can know how glad I am to find”
5. Based on the poem, which trait does the poet NOT possess?
A. Sentimentality B. Individualism C. Compassion D. Controlling nature
Answer: D. Controlling nature
6. What eventually happens to the speck?
A. It runs off the page B. It gets swatted C. It is flicked away D. It is allowed to remain
Answer: D. It is allowed to remain
7. What poetic device is used in the title “A Considerable Speck”?
A. Allegory B. Allusion C. Irony D. Onomatopoeia
Answer: C. Irony
8. Why does the poet allow the speck to remain on the page?
A. He fears killing it B. He wants to study it more C. He respects all life D. He hopes it will leave on its own
Answer: C. He respects all life
9. What does the speck seem to symbolize?
A. Nature’s cruelty B. The insignificance of life C. The beauty of insects D. The human capacity for thought
Answer: D. The human capacity for thought
10. What eventually causes the poet to realize the speck is alive?
A. Seeing it eat the ink B. Watching it crawl slowly C. Noticing its erratic movements D. Feeling it tickle his hand
Answer: C. Noticing its erratic movements
11. Why does the poet anthropomorphize the speck?
A. For comic effect B. To make it easier to understand C. To create vivid imagery D. To mock small creatures
Answer: C. To create vivid imagery
12. What does the poet’s “tenderer-than-thou” attitude refer to?
A. Sentimentality B. Aggressiveness C. Arrogance D. Curiosity
Answer: A. Sentimentality
13. What literary technique does the poet employ most when describing the speck?
A. Rhyme B. Simile C. Personification D. Alliteration
Answer: C. Personification
14. Why does the poet capitalize words like “Mind” and “Speck”?
A. For emphasis B. For proper formatting C. To show respect D. To highlight irony
Answer: A. For emphasis
15. Based on tone, what is the poet’s attitude toward the speck?
A. Bitterness B. Awe C. Indifference D. Disgust
Answer: B. Awe
16. Why does the poet mention “drinking” or “smelling” the ink?
A. To be humorous B. To suggest intelligence C. To offer clarity D. To introduce a rhyme
Answer: B. To suggest intelligence
17. What deeper meaning does the speck represent?
A. The darkness in life B. The continuity of nature C. Humanity’s insignificance D. The presence of consciousness
Answer: D. The presence of consciousness
18. Why does the poet mention feet in relation to the speck?
A. To emphasise its tiny size B. To show it is an insect, not dust C. To introduce some verse rhythm D. To indicate the passage of time
Answer: B. To show it is an insect, not dust
19. What does the poet wish for the speck at the end?
A. Solitude B. Extermination C. Freedom D. Rest
Answer: D. Rest
20. What does the poet appreciate about the speck?
A. Its fragility B. Its perseverance C. Its brevity D. Its vitality
Answer: B. Its perseverance
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