Frost at Midnight
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
It is a calm and quiet night and the poet is in his cottage. His infant son is sleeping silently in his cradle. It is winter and the frost seems to be performing a secret duty without the help of the wind. The only sound is an owl hooting repeatedly. The inmates of the cottage have all retired to rest, leaving the poet to his solitude so that he could ponder over his incomprehensible thoughts. The only person near him is his infant son who is so silent in his cradle. The calmness is such that its extreme silence disturbs the poet in his meditation. The sea, the hill, the woods which are all abuzz with activities during the day time are all quiet now. They are as inaudible as someone else’s dreams.
The poet spies a thin blue flame on the grate in the fireplace. It flutters all over the dying embers. It is so thin it doesn’t quiver like normal flames. The poet sees in the thin unquiet flame a clear reflection of his inner self. It is a companionable form to the poet’s soul. His quiet soul is able to interpret the weak and mild movements of the thin blue flame in the grate. He finds parallels between himself and the flame. The poet has the habit of thinking deeply about the things around him and seeing himself in them. This helps him have a better look into his own soul. The poet says that this is exactly what the flame also does. It reflects on the various things around it so as to see itself.
The poet suddenly goes back to his childhood memories and says how often he has seen the same flame do the same thing in fireplaces in his school. While in school he used to see day dreams about his birthplace and the old church tower there. He remembers the church bell which was the only music the poor men in his village heard. On hot Fair days it would sing from morning to evening. It was so sweet that it always gave him a wild pleasure. It told him of the things that were to come in his life. He would stare at the thin blue flame in the school fireplace till the soothing things he dreamt would put him to sleep. In his sleep the day-dream would continue as a real dream. He would further think about it the following morning in his class while at school. This would infuriate his stern teacher. But the poet would still pretend to be studying his books while in fact the book too floats around in his dream. Whenever the door opened he hoped to find a stranger’s face or a man from his own town or an aunt or his favourite sister or a play mate wearing the same dress as he did.
The poet now addresses his baby. The gentle breathing of his baby is heard in that deep calmness. It fills the vacant moments in between his thoughts. He finds his baby beautiful and it makes him very happy. When he looks at his infant son he thinks that he may grow up different. He may grow up listening to stories which are different from the ones he had heard. He may spend his childhood in places which are different from the ones his father, the poet, grew up in. The poet grew up in cloistered surroundings and saw not much of the beautiful nature. He saw nothing lovely except the stars and the sky. But he hopes his son may wander like a breeze by lakes, on sandy shores, in the valleys of ancient mountains and under clouds that look like lakes, shores and mountain crags. He will see the lovely shapes and hear the lovely sounds intelligible only to those who speak the eternal and divine language that God utters. Through everything around us God teaches us about Himself and about all things in Him. The Almighty will mould his son’s spirit and, by satisfying his curiosity, make him ask for more knowledge.
All seasons would be sweet to his son. He will be happy when the summer clothes the earth with greenness or the winter makes the redbreast sing lovely songs sitting between tufts of snow on the branches of mossy apple trees while the roof seems to emit vapour when the sun falls on its wet thatches. He will enjoy the soft sounds of water drops as they fall off eaves, though this sound can be heard only when the general din of the day subsides to quietness. It will please his eyes to see how the secret ministry of the frost makes the water drops stay up as icicles and they keep shining to the quiet moon.
S. T. Coleridge’s poems are famous for the dream-like atmosphere they create. From the very first line where the poet talks about ‘the secret ministry of the frost’ to where he talks about the icicles hanging from the eves shining at the moon, the poem treats memories, landscapes, dreams, fears and hopes as if they are not different. The poet reveals a mind which is sensitive to his inner life and the external reality.