Close Critical Analysis of Coleridge's 'Frost at Midnight'

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Close Critical Analysis of Coleridge's 'Frost at Midnight'

By | March 2005
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'Frost at Midnight' is generally regarded as the greatest of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'Conversation Poems' and is said to have influenced Wordsworth's pivotal work, 'Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey'. It is therefore apposite to analyse 'Frost at Midnight' with a view to revealing how the key concerns of Romanticism were communicated through the poem.

The Romantic period in English literature ran from around 1785, following the death of the eminent neo-classical writer Samuel Johnson, to the ascension of Queen Victoria to the throne in 1837. However, in the years spanning this period writers were not identified as exponents of a recognised literary movement. It was only later that literary historians created and applied the term 'Romanticism'. Since then, a further distinction has been made between first and second generation Romantic writers. But even within these sub-divisions there exist points of divergence. As first generation Romantics, Coleridge and Wordsworth enjoyed an intimate friendship and collaborated to produce the seminal Romantic work, Lyrical Ballads (1798). But in his Biographia Literaria (1817) Coleridge cast a critical eye over the 'Preface to the Lyrical Ballads' (1800) and took issue with much of Wordsworth's poetical theory. Such discrepancies frustrate attempts to classify Romanticism as a monolithic movement and make establishing a workable set of key concerns problematic.

In his introduction to the Norton Anthology of English Literature M. H. Abrams attempts to overcome these difficulties by identifying the 'five cardinal elements' of Romantic poetry. According to Abrams, Romantic poetry is distinguished by the belief that poetry is not an "imitation of nature" but a "representation of the poet's internal emotions". Secondly, that the writing of poetry should be "an effortless expression" and not an "arduous exercise". The prevalence of nature in Romantic poetry and what Abrams calls "the glorification of the...

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