I. Context & Subject Matter
Frost at Midnight,' composed in February, 1798, also dates from a time, when he was living happily with his wife shortly after the birth of their first son, under the wide-branching protection of strong Thomas Poole, with William and Dorothy near and poetry pouring unto him from the heaven's height.
It is the musing of a father beside the cradle of his child at midnight, and the passage is well known in which he foretells that Hartley shall
` wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain.'
II. Sound Effects
Read the poem aloud. Comment on the Sound Effects, verbal music. It’s rhyme. Rhythm and melody. Assonance, alliteration. onomatopoeia. etc. (Blending repetition patterns. slow/fast movement, harsh, discordant, sibilance, sotto, allegro, Rhapsodic, lyrical, elegiac, upbeat, blue, staccato, dirge, ode, Melody. tone. mood. atmosphere. voice.
The conversational tone, colloquial language and organic growth of the ideas make this an accessible poem. It is immediate and also contemplative as the composer takes us into his confidence by embarking on an imaginative and intimate journey from the present, to the past and into the future for his son.
The chief beauty of the poem, however, is in its `return,' which is the best example of the peculiar kind of blank verse Coleridge had evolved, as natural-seeming as prose, but as exquisitely artistic as the most complicated sonnet:
` Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.'
III. Themes, Issues, Values, Concerns
Nature synonymous with God or the oneness of all things “secret ministry” and “Himself in all, and all things in himself”. Also known as Panthesism.
The power of the mind, triggered by concrete images, to suspend reality and float through a series of random thoughts – a stream of consciousness – our imagination.
Structure : linear, circular, episodic, flash backs, climatic. Images: (visual, auditory, o1factory, tactile, ,gustatory) figures of speech: similes, metaphors, personification, analogy, synecdoche, contrast, apostrophe, antithesis, unity, irony, Allusions, etc
As it is night, our senses are muted and we begin to see with our soul, our imagination, our inner being. The moon, a symbol of reflective light, therefore reflective thought, gives rise to reveries, musings, ponderings and flights of memories into both the past and speculations on the future.
While most of the poem is positive there is a plaintive and negative mood in the second stanza as he reminisces on the lonely homesick emotions he suffered at boarding school in the city. The pejoratives, stern preceptor and “In the great city, pent’ mid cloisters dim” indicate the trauma experienced. His intention that his son should not experience the city indicates the revulsion he still feels. Instead his pantheism is demonstrated by the antithesis of “Himself in all, and all things in himself”
Of further interest is the contrast of restrictive claustrophobic images with expansive boundless ones.
“Sea, hill, and wood, This populous village! Sea and hill and wood”.
He could be at peace in nature, except for the hectic life in the village. Later he contrasts these again with:
“I was reared
In the great city, pent’ mid cloisters dim,”
“But thou, my Babe! Shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds ,…”
Other effective images or symbols include the fluttering films on flickering fires redolent of folklore portending a visitor, and the symbolic contrast of the sun and the moon; the sun representative of logical thought while the moon suggests reflective, creative and imaginative musings.
Approach : Subjective/Objective, Attitude or Tone, Audience, Style: diction, word play, puns, connotative/denotative, emotive (coloured biased,) /demotive, (technical, dispassionate) clichés, proverbial, idiomatic, expressive, flat, Jargon, euphemisms, pejorative, oxymoron. Gender biases. Register: formal, stiff, dignified or Colloquial; relaxed, conversational, inclusive, friendly or Slang; colourful, intimate, Rhetorical devices; Questions, exclamations, cumulation, crescendo, inversion, bathos, repetition, 3 cornered phrases.
While most of the language is simple and easy to understand, there are a few archaic and challenging terms such as: abstruser musings, (complicated ) presageful, (before becoming wise) preceptor,(Tutor) pent, (trapped) cloisters,( religious buildings).
"Secret ministry" – Nature’s work is equated to God’s work.
Pejoratives , stern preceptor and “In the great city, pent’ mid cloisters dim” indicate the trauma experienced.
Exclamatory expressions such as “Came loud-and hark, again!” or But O! how oft, How oft, at school……To watch that fluttering stranger!” At least 11 exclamation marks in this poem.
A form of apostrophe where he directly addresses the sleeping Babe in the 3 rd Stanza.
Antithesis: “Himself in all, and all things in himself”.
In this gem of a poem, Coleridge is able to fuse sense and meaning by a clever use of simple colloquial conversational language, the use of sound effects and striking images.
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