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
"Frost At Midnight", By Samuel Taylor Coleridge
'Frost at Midnight' is another of Coleridge's most famous Conversation poems. In it, through musing on some childhood memories set off by the quiet within his cottage, Coleridge partly muses on those psychological states that produce poetry. Hence, it is another perfect exemplar of an imaginative journey - and, again, it is one which eventually broadens his own understanding of the world.
The following analysis takes you carefully through the poem. As you read it, think about how it shows the journey of Coleridge's consciousness.
"The Frost performs its secret ministry" (l.1)
Here Coleridge establishes an air of a magical, quasi-religious process at work in the simple natural act of the frost falling outside. The line also implies a strong energy at work - despite this sense of energy, it is silence that is to be the most overwhelming sense in the poem.
"Unhelped by any wind." (l.2)
The feeling of extreme stillness is built up, broken only by the cry of the owlet - a cry which Coleridge uses to draw the reader into the poem, with the direct address of "hark, again!" (l.3)
From here, in the typically systolic movement, Coleridge then moves his attention from outside, and we discover as he moves his attention inward, that indeed he himself is inside a cottage (l.4) and that the description of the outside world has been a piece of imagination. Continuing the narrowing focus, Coleridge then focuses his attention on himself alone (l.5), and then again outward somewhat onto a sleeping child: "My cradled infant slumbers peacefully" (l.7). The innocence of the cradled infant stands in opposition to the almost sinister secretiveness of the opening line.
The condition that dominates the poem at this point is that of extreme quiet and stillness:
'Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness (ll.8-10)
The notion of a calm so great that it disturbs is not only a paradox, but seems to overturn the idea that Coleridge is in a situation of "a solitude, which suits abstruser musings" (ll.5-6). If anything, the calm seems to be disturbing him - and this is the central paradox of the poem: the idea of quiet stillness-in-the-midst-of-movement or of movement-in-the-midst-of-quiet stillness. The best example of this paradox is Coleridge's own active mind in the midst of, and set off by, the extreme quiet. The silence itself is the provoker of meditation. The whole poem is a fine balance of slumberous stillness and super-sensitive awareness.
From here, Coleridge's consciousness moves outward again, this time to the wide world outside the cottage:
...Sea, hill and wood,
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