1. Introduction to ‘Frost at Midnight’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The poem Frost at Midnight was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge to celebrate the birth of his son, Hartley, in February, 1798. He wrote the poem while gazing upon his sleeping son, who would grow to become a poet himself, and first published it with Fear in Solitude and France: An Ode.
Coleridge has written Frost at Midnight in a very contemplative mood. The atmosphere of the poem is perfectly peaceful and calm and there is nothing to disturb it. This quietness is maintained throughout the poem. And it is further enhanced by the poet’s thoughts that are also mild and gentle. There is nothing to disturb the harmony of his mind.
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Here is the summary and analysis of Frost at Midnight by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
2. Summary of ‘Frost at Midnight’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The frost is secretly performing its work without being helped by the wind. The owlet is crying loudly again and again. All the inhabitants of the cottage are sleeping and the poet all alone. And it is that loneliness which is usually favorable to philosophical thinking. His child is sleeping peacefully in a cradle by his side. There is so much silence all around that the poet is disturbed in his thinking by this absolute calmness. Sea, hill, wood, this populous village, with all their innumerable activities are as silent as dreams. Also, the blue flame of fire lying low, is absolutely motionless.
However, the only thing which has any movement is the film that is fluttering on the gate. There is a kind of sympathy between the poet and this film since both are awake as well as active. The poet feels that this film is his companion in this solitude. The idle spirit of the poet explicates the irregular movements of the film according to his own whims and mood. In this manner, the poet is seeking for a reflection of his own mind everywhere and plays with thoughts.
2.1. The Poet’s Memory of his Childhood
When the poet was at his school, he used to believe that the fluttering film was a prophetic symbol and foretold the arrival of some relative or friend. He, therefore, used to gaze expectantly at the bars of the gate whether the film was fluttering or not. And whenever he saw the fluttering film there, he became excited and hopeful. He began to dream of his ‘sweet birth-place’. He also dreamt of the ‘old church-tower’ whose bells provided the only music to the poor men of that place. They rang from morning ‘to evening, all the hot Fair-day’. The sound of these church-bells was so sweet to him. Besides, it also used to haunt him and gave him a wild and inexplicable pleasure. Also, this sound appeared to him to be a prophecy of future events.
He gazed in such a way at the film and dreamt of soothing things which made him fall asleep after sometime. And, even in his sleep, he continued to dream of these sweet things. The same ideas, he says, continued coming in his mind the next morning as well. As he was afraid of his strict teacher, he used to look at his book. But his mind was always wandering here and there. And he was thinking of his birth-place, his relatives and his friends.
Further, the poet tells us that, if the door of the room was half-opened by somebody, he looked hastily in that direction. His heart leaped up with joy because he expected to see the face of some visitor—either a townsman, or his aunt, or his beloved sister, or some play-mate of his boyish days when they both used to wear similar clothes.
2.2. The Poet’s Conversation with his Sleeping Baby
The poet then addresses his baby who is sleeping in the cradle by his side. He can clearly hear his child’s gentle breathings in this calm and quiet atmosphere and they fill up the gaps or pauses of his mind when he transfers his thinking from one idea to the other. Further, he says, his child is so beautiful that it thrills his heart with gladness to look at him in this manner and to think that his child will be educated and brought up in a different atmosphere than his own.
The poet himself was brought up in London (i.e. away from the lovely sights of nature and his beautiful home town) where he received his early education. He was confined all the time in dim cloisters and could not see any beautiful sights of nature except the sky and the stars. But his son will be brought up in an atmosphere close to Nature. He will be free to roam here and there like wind by lakes and sandy shores, beneath rocks of ancient mountains, and also beneath the clouds, which in their bulk and size, represent the lakes, sea-shores and mountain rocks.
2.3. The Poet’s Thoughts about his Baby’s Relation to Nature
In this way, his baby will see the beautiful shapes and hear the lovely sounds of Nature through which God teaches us. The sound of Nature, according to the poet, is the eternal language of God and we can understand it by remaining in contact with Nature. According to him, Nature is the great universal teacher and it will mold the spirit of his child who will be greatly influenced by it and will strive to have inspiration and guidance from it more and more.
Further, the poet says that his child will live in constant company of Nature. And, thus, he will learn to love all the seasons. He will love the summer season when the earth is covered all around with greenness. He will also love the winter season when the redbreast sits and sings between the tufts of snow on the leafless cold branches of an apple-tree covered all-over with moss. On such occasions, the nearby roof of the cottage will be seen sending vapors in the air, when the snow on it melts in the heat of the sun.
The poet further says that his son will also love the rainy season. He will love to see the rain-drops fall from the caves and their sound is heard only when the storm stops for short-periods and silence prevails. Or if the frost starts forming itself unseen, he will also love the icicles (when water-drops are frozen due to coldness) silently shining in the light of the quiet moon.
3. Analysis of ‘Frost at Midnight’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Frost at Midnight is one of the most famous poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Hailed as a finest masterpiece, the poem is a conversation between a father and his infant son. It also highlights the utmost brilliance of one of the towering figures in the history of English literature.
In Frost at Midnight, Coleridge expresses his deep connection with the sea, hill, and woods that surrounds his cottage, and more generally with the murmurings of Nature as it ebbs, flows, crystallizes, and forms frost by the window at midnight, whilst those in the house and in the village, sleep through it, oblivious. Coleridge’s communion with Nature, the rhyme with which he expresses tumult, along with the various emotions he feels, is poignant, mellifluous, and breathtaking. He observes the mechanism of Nature (such as the play of light, the flow of the breeze etc.) and is completely inspired by it.
3.1. Title & Beginning of the Poem ‘Frost at Midnight’
The title of the poem is a cold and frosty night. The opening lines express the atmosphere of the night when complete silence prevails. There is no wind and the frost is settling unseen. And this silence is only broken by the occasional screeching of the owlet. Then we are taken from ‘the idling Spirit’ of the poet to his ‘eye’.
The poet begins to remember his childhood days when he was removed from his home and all its comforts and affections at an early age. He was haunted by a feeling of solitude throughout his life at school. Then, from his school, the poet’s mind comes back to the cottage-room and he starts thinking about his infant son.
3.2. The Poet’s Various Ideas in the Poem
Afterwards, we learn about various kinds of ideas that are coming in the poet’s mind. He is gazing at his baby and thinks that he will be brought up in different surroundings than his own. He will have a different education in a better atmosphere and natural surroundings.
Whenever he is deeply immersed in thinking, he does not hear the sound of the breathing of the child. But whenever his mind becomes vacant for a moment, he becomes conscious of the material world around him and listens to the gentle breathing of his child. In this way, his momentary vacantness of the mind is filled up by the sound of the child’s gentle breathing.
Like other Romantic poets, Coleridge is also a great lover and close observer of Nature. According to him, God speaks to human beings through Nature. Therefore, it is only by living in natural surroundings that we can understand and come nearer to God. God is teaching us through Nature from the beginning of creation that He lives in all the objects of this world, whether great or small. He is also teaching us that all the objects, in their totality, are confined to Him. It is evident that God is permanent, eternal, and all pervading.
Thus, the poet wants his child to be more close to Nature than the congested life of the city. Nature will inspire and influence his child so much that he will long for its inspiration and influence more and more.
3.3. Wordsworthian concept of Nature
Here, Coleridge expresses the Wordsworthian concept of Nature. Because the same view, as we see above, is expressed by Wordsworth so emphatically and forcibly. Wordsworth believed that Nature is animated by the universal soul which is present in the objects of Nature and also in the heart of man. He also believed in the educative and ennobling influence of Nature upon human beings. These lines in the poem, thus, express the atheistic metaphysics of Nature and mythical pantheism of Coleridge.
3.4. The Ending of the Poem ‘Frost at Midnight’
The lines towards the end of the poem present the beautiful and exquisite depiction of various seasons of the year. The imagery of the earth’s greenness, the redbreast singing while sitting on the branch of a ‘mossy apple-tree’, and the ‘silent icicles’ shining quietly to the calm moon depicts the poet’s minute observation of natural phenomenon.
In Coleridge’s description of Nature, we find accuracy and vividness of detail, which shows that he has entered its spirit and reproduces it with a few deft strokes. He successfully handles all visual details, and sometimes his observations seem to cross the limits of ordinary visual perceptions.
At the same time, he describes sights and scenes of Nature as colored by human emotions. He notices the Divine Spirit permeating through all the objects of Nature.
Thus, in the Frost at Midnight, the loving musings of a lovable father beside the cradle of his dear son rises to a climax expressing Coleridge’s conception of Unity.