Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote his classical poem “Frost at Midnight” in 1798. This poem discusses Coleridge’s early years in a negative way and highlights the need for growing up in the countryside. Coleridge hopes that his son will not have the same city life like him and that he will be raised in the countryside.
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Frost at Midnight
BY SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud–and hark, again ! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings : save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
‘Tis calm indeed ! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village ! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams ! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.
But O ! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come !
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams !
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor’s face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book :
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger’s face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike !
Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the interspersed vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought !
My babe so beautiful ! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes ! For I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe ! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags : so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher ! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.
Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw ; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.
Analysis of Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight”
“Frost at Midnight” was written in 1798. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker, Coleridge himself, is sitting inside his cottage beside his sleeping child on a cold winter night. All the others are asleep in the cottage. He observes the nature outside, including the frost that covers the windows. It is very tranquil, and the only audible sound is the film of soot that stretches from the grate and dwindling flame in the fire pit. Reminiscing about his childhood, Coleridge then alludes to the fact that he used to slip into naps during class lessons and dream of sweet things like home and family. He was a lonely boy who dreamt of free time and playmates, and he resented his father for not letting him explore life outside of his studies.
The author then gazes upon his son and envisions all the future experiences his son is going to have with Nature and God. For his child, he pictures a future that includes countryside visits, by lakes and mountains. Unlike his own city life growing up, the author’s son will have the liberty and opportunities to appreciate God and Nature. He also hopes that his son will be able to know about and appreciate God’s lessons. Lastly, Coleridge hopes that his son will be able to appreciate nature and all its seasons.
Broadly, Coleridge discusses the link between man and the natural world in this poem. Coleridge says that people should be able to find evidence of God in all things. He believes that even if something in nature seems unpleasant or mildly hostile to life, for example, the frost, it still shows God’s creative power. Humans have built everything in the city while God has made everything in Nature. So, for Coleridge, Nature is the more crucial source of instruction and knowledge.