"Frost at Midnight" (1798)
In this conversation poem, Coleridge is the speaker and the silent listener is his infant son, Hartley Coleridge. The setting of the poem is late at night, when Coleridge is the only one awake in the household. Coleridge sits next to his son’s cradle and reflects on the frost falling outside his home. He takes this instance of solitude to allow his reflections to expand to his 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 and admire the frost falling outside and would daydream about leaving the city and returning to his rural birthplace. Coleridge tells his son that he is 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. Coleridge then wishes that “all seasons shall be sweet” to his son and that his son will learn to appreciate all aspects of nature.
In “Frost at Midnight,” Coleridge explores the relationship between environment and happiness and also reflects on the idyllic innocence of childhood. The construction of this poem, in which Coleridge’s infant son is the silent listener, is significant for Coleridge’s musings on the above themes. In “Coleridge the Revisionary: Surrogacy and Structure in the Conversation Poems,” Peter Barry highlights the “surrogacy” element that is present in many of Coleridge’s conversation poems. Barry defines surrogacy as “the core of the central meditative episode” that is “a transaction between the speaking persona and a surrogate self, that is, another person onto whom are projected or disposed key elements of the speaker’s own personality, dilemmas, or thought processes” (602). In “Frost at Midnight,” the infant Hartley serves as Coleridge’s surrogate. After Coleridge shares his lamentations on his physical and emotional...
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