Elements of introduction The poem under study is “Frost at Midnight”, composed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, English poet who was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England. It is part of the conversation poems, a series of 8 poems composed by Coleridge between 1795 and 1807 ; each details a particular life experience which leads to the poet’s examination of nature and the role of poetry.
Written in 1798, “Frost at midnight” discusses Coleridge’s childhood experience in a quite negative manner and emphasizers the need to be brought up in the countryside. In this poem, the narrator comes to an understanding of nature while isolated with his thoughts. Nature becomes a comfort, however, the poet remembers the loneliness of childhood when he felt isolated from nature and other people, as if living in a world of strangers. His hope is that his own child, David Hartley, will experience an easier and more harmonious life.
In this conversation poem, the speaker is generally held to be Coleridge himself ; the poem is quiet, very personal restatement of the abiding themes of early English Romanticism : the effect of nature on imagination, the relationship between children and natural world, contrast between this liberating country setting and the city, relationship btw adulthood and childhood as they are linked in adult memory. Like many Romantic verse monologues of this kind such as “Tintern Abbey” as a notable example, this poem is written in blank verse, a term used to describe unrhymed lines metered in iambic pentameter. nd the silent listener is his infant son, Hartley. The setting of the poem is late at night, when Coleridge is the only one awake in the household. He sits next to his son’s cradle and reflects on the frost falling outside the home. He takes this instant of solitude to allow his reflections to expand to his love of nature. I – A typical conversation poem Coleridge begins by creating a tone of solemn gentleness in the first line, s the frost is described as performing a “secret ministry” : the frost ministers without the help of the wind (l2), thus takes the bite out of the chilly night air and maintains a silence throughout the landscape. The only sound he can hear is the owl (l2-3), but its sudden interruption of the quiet is counterpoised with the sleepers in the cottage, whose rest remains undisturbed. The speaker enjoys this midnight solitude, although he notes that he is not truly alone : his “cradled infant slumbers peacefully” beside him (l7).
The baby’s presence only serves to accentuate the speaker’s solitude since this child, too, sleeps while the speaker alone is awake at this late hour. At first, he finds the absolute stillness disturbing ; he takes comfort in the seeming sympathy of the only stirring object in the house or beyond – a film across the grate (grille de foyer) – the “sole unquiet thing” (l16). The speaker sees a similarity between himself and the “puny flaps and freaks” of the grate (l20). The insensible film interprets the moving of air without a guiding reason, so too does the speaker “makes a toy of thought” (l23).
Transition : by shifting the scene of the second stanza to his boyhood and summertime, Coleridge manages to create a sense of the inner discomfort that the speaker feels in his midnight vigil (une veille) in the cottage. A poem which conveys many beliefs of the romantic movement Themes of ‘power of sleep’, dreams and imagination The image that connects these themes is the “thin blue flame” in the fireplace. Christopher R. Miller in “Coleridge and the Scene of Lyric Description” : he identifies the “flickering of the ember” as a “counterpoint to Coleridge’s own insomniac musings”.
Peter Barry in “Coleridge the Revisionnary : Surrogacy and Structure in the Conversation Poems” : He asserts that the dying flame is representative of Coleridge’s reproof of the “directionlessness in his Spirit” : “like the flame, his own intellectual spirit is puny, unable to achieve lift-off, purposeless, narcissistic, and prone to interpret everything as a reflection of itself, so that thought becomes an idle plaything rather than a purposeful instrument”. “Power of sleep” : In the first stanza of the poem, Coleridge laments that his insomnia stifles his imagination.
Perhaps this is why Coleridge takes pleasure in watching his son sleep, for the poet understands that dreams allow for the flourishing of creativity. ???? Then, he sees a “stranger” (l26;41) which he sees “fluttering” out the window ; perhaps a butterfly or bird which comes to his memory as he sits – as an adult – within his winter cottage listening to the rustling (bruissement) flap on the grate. He finds this stranger desirable, “more beloved” by townsman, aunt, or sister to his eyes (l42).
This spirit of nature is in fact his “play-mate” when they are “clothed alike”, both outside enjoying the pervasive presence of nature. II – – > In his poem, Coleridge explores the relationship between environment and happiness and also reflects on the idyllic innocence of childhood Description of his own love of nature Coleridge describes to his son how his love of nature dates back to his boyhood. During school, Coleridge would gaze out the schoolhouse windows, discontent with where he sits (inside a schoolroom, attempting to study) ; He admires the frost falling outside , longing for the wild familiarity of nature.
Although he attempts a “mock study” of his “swimming book” (l38) when the stern preceptor draws near, nonetheless he finds his thought already out the half-open door he spies out of the corner of his eye. > His thoughts return to the present, specifically to his sleeping baby. The sounds he can hear now is his breathing, which fills the moments between his sombre thoughts. He wonders at the baby’s beauty and turns his mind to the “far other lore (tradition) / and in far other scenes” which the child will learn one day.
In the second verse paragraph, when he reflects on his schooldays, he engages in a memory with a memory ; he tells us that he used to daydream about his home village (Ottery St Mary in Devon), where the sound of the church bells filled him with excited anticipation. The cause of his disturbance now, his sense of separation from the village and from nature, may have something to do with the separation in childhood from his home village in this exile to school and to the city. Lamentations on his physical and emotional confinement in urban England during the latter part of his childhood
The speaker clearly did not enjoy his life in London, where he felt trapped ; He notes his own limited upbringing (education), kept as he was in “the great city, pent mid cloisters dim” (l52) where the only natural beauty he could ever see was the sky and stars > the contrast between this liberating country setting and city as we know that one of the fundamentals of Romanticism is the belief in the natural goodness of man, the idea that in a state of nature people would behave well but are hindered by civilisation, embodied by the city of London where Coleridge grew up in his later days.
He was not a child with nature ; these thoughts eventually lulled him to sleep, and his day dreams then turned into dreams. His lack of concentration in class caused him problems when he went back to school the “following morn”, but he still kept thinking about the film, anticipated the coming of an absent friend and thought about his birth place. But, if the classroom door opened the slightest, the boy would immediately look up, so as to look for escaping, hoping it was a “townsman, aunt or sister more beloved” which the fluttering stranger had predicted would come to visit.
The speaker declares that an education gained in the realms of nature will make all seasons “sweet to thee”, giving the baby a perspective on life that the speaker cannot fully hold because of his own limited exposure to nature in its various forms. While the father has difficulty settling in to the silent solitude of a frosty midnight, and similarly could not focus on his studies indoors while summer spent itself without, the son will have no difficulty embracing nature in her various dresses, because he will be more connected to the natural order than his father ever could be.
His memory of feeling trapped in the schoolhouse naturally brings him back into his immediate surroundings with a sudden rush of feeling for his son. His final meditation on his son’s future becomes mingled with his Romantic interpretation of nature and its role in the child’s creativity. > The consideration of his own unhappy childhood leads Coleridge to reflect on the baby sleeping next to him ; at least he can ensure that Hartley will not experience the same exile from nature. The poem, after a brief pause in the present, launches on a vision of the future, where it continues develop until the end.
That is why he daydreams about leaving the city and returning to his rural birthplace to raise his kid. His desire to bring up his child in a more pastoral life, surrounded with nature On the other hand, his baby will wander the mountains and fiels, gaining an education only Nature in all its glory can bestow. The child will learn “that eternal language, which thy God/Utters” (l60) ; in other words, he will learn the spirit of Nature and see in it the wonder, majesty, and beauty of its Creator. He tells his son that he’s delighted that his son will have more opportunities to observe the beauty of nature and will not be reared/ in the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim’” as Coleridge himself was. He then wishes that “all seasons shall be sweet” to his son and that his son will learn to appreciate all aspects of nature. Coleridge projects on his son his own longing for childhood innocence and his belief that closeness to nature brings happiness. Coleridge declares that Hartley will be brought up in a more pastoral life and will be closer to nature than his father was. Thus, Coleridge projects on his son own longing for childhood innocence and his belief that closeness to nature brings happiness.
To illustrate Coleridge’s theory we can draw a parallel talking about Wordsworth. Coleridge, as we know, was raised in London, “pent ‘mid cloisters dim” whereas Wordsworth was brought up in the rustic countryside. He thus saw his own childhood as a time when his connection with the natural world was at its greatest. He revisited his memories his memories of childhood in order to soothe his feelings and provoke his imagination ; whereas Coleridge questions Wordsworth’s easy identification of childhood with a kind of automatic, original happiness.
Instead, in his poem, he says that, as a child, he “saw naught lovely but the stars ans sky” and seems to feel the lingering effects of that alienation. In this poem, we can see how the pain of this alienation has strengthened Coleridge’s wish that his child enjoy an idyllic Wordsworthian upbringing “by lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags / of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds”. Rather than seeing the link between childhood and nature as an inevitable, Coleridge seems to perceive it as a fragile, precious, and extraordinary connection, one of which he himself was deprived.