Frost at Midnight

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A Frost at Midnight - A Poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s, A Frost at Midnight [1798], is a conversation poem whereby the mind of the poet and his or her environment are brought into intimate contact. The rhythm of the poem is subtle and unforced carefully suggesting real rhythms of speech. Coleridge has achieved this effect by using blank verse, few full rhymes and few end stops. It is a deeply personal poem to his sleeping infant son. The setting is in a cottage at midnight. The outside environment of “sea, hill and wood”, the frost and the “low burnt” fire in front of him, combine to lead him first to reflect on how thoughts arise and then to a particular reminiscence of his school days. He initially repeats “sea, hill and wood” in order to draw our attention to the surrounding countryside area. The tone is tender and quietly meditative, the gentle quality being achieved by the poem’s lack of self-conscious devices. The poem’s speaker reflects on the silence of the night as he watches over his child in slumber. The poem is initially idyllic and domestic but there is so much contained within. It is sometimes difficult to understand a poem without understanding the cultural setting, the philosophical stance or the overall psychological mind-set of the poet. Although ‘Frost at Midnight’ is domestic and idyllic on one level, it is also part of the idea that the path of mystery lies inwards, in which feeling, sensibility, imagination and experience play freely on his faculty of cognition so that the poem becomes almost a living organism embodying the Spinozaean idea of moving from ‘seeing through a glass darkly’ to sub specie aerternitatis, which exerted great influence over artists and poets of the Romantic period. To paraphrase Graham Hough [The Romantic Poets], the poem is also an experiment in associationism [ David Hartley ] and what Coleridge termed ‘secondary imagination’ in addition to a special handling of language embracing...
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