Close critical analysis of Coleridges Frost at Midnight Essay
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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…show more content…
Comprising four stanzas of varying length, it is written in blank verse and adopts a conversational tone. The flexibility of the meter complements the spontaneous, impulsive nature of a poem containing both personal reflection and joyous visions, and further illustrates Abrams's claim that Romantic poetry should be an 'effortless expression' rather than an 'arduous exercise'. As an account of the speaker's present, past, and future circumstances, George Dekker has argued that the poem utilises a typically Romantic structure:
The persona digresses from a carefully established scene to a former time and contrasting situation, then back to the present before moving into the future vision of prayer. (Dekker, 1978, p. 235)
By its use of such a structure 'Frost at Midnight' also illustrates Abrams's observation that Romantic poetry should be less an 'imitation of nature' than a 'representation of the poet's internal emotions'. Contrary to the neo-classical emphasis on observation and objective knowledge, the speaker of 'Frost at Midnight' uses nature as the stimulus to turn inward. His perceptions transport him on a journey through memory and imagination and ultimately to a moment of personal insight. In 'Frost at Midnight', Coleridge highlights the Romantic conviction that the poet's role is not to hold a mirror up to nature but to use the fountains of memories and feelings which nature evokes to create something valuable and
One of the most important themes is that of the “child of nature,” which finds expression in a number of Coleridge’s other poems of this period, including “The Dungeon” (1798) and “The Nightingale” (1798). “Frost at Midnight” contrasts the stifling effect of life in the city, where as a child the poet was “Pent in cloisters dim,” with the liberating effect of an upbringing in nature. In the city, education is characterized by the “stern preceptor” and the unwilling student. In nature, God himself is the teacher, and he reveals himself through the beauties of his creation.
This suggests the underlying religious, even mystical, theme to the poem: the development of the poet’s ability to perceive the eternal, unifying, divine spirit through all the diverse forms of time. This is beautifully captured in the last verse paragraph, beginning “Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,” which reveals the growth in the poet’s consciousness that has occurred during the poem. In the opening scene, the poet, in his restlessness, felt at odds with the peaceful environment. Now a “sweetness,” a sense of quiet communion with the outer world, has been added that was not there before. The “secret ministry of frost” has done its work. This can be understood at both the literal and the symbolic level. At a literal level, the frost has performed its ministry by freezing the water drops into icicles which shine as they reflect the...
(The entire section is 537 words.)