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Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Frost at Midnight

The Frost performs its secret ministry, 

Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cry 

Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before. 

The inmates of my cottage, all at rest, 

Have left me to that solitude, which suits 

Abstruser musings: save that at my side 

My cradled infant slumbers peacefully. 

'Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs 

And vexes meditation with its strange 

And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood, 

This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood, 

With all the numberless goings-on of life, 

Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame 

Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not; 

Only that film, which fluttered on the grate, 

Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing. 

Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature 

Gives it dim sympathies with me who live, 

Making it a companionable form, 

Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit 

By its own moods interprets, every where 

Echo or mirror seeking of itself, 

And makes a toy of Thought. 

                      But O! how oft, 

How oft, at school, with most believing mind, 

Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars, 

To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft 

With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt 

Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower, 

Whose bells, the poor man's only music, rang 

From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day, 

So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me 

With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear 

Most like articulate sounds of things to come! 

So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt, 

Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams! 

And so I brooded all the following morn, 

Awed by the stern preceptor's face, mine eye 

Fixed with mock study on my swimming book: 

Save if the door half opened, and I snatched 

A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up, 

For still I hoped to see the stranger's face, 

Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved, 

My play-mate when we both were clothed alike! 

         Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side, 

Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm, 

Fill up the intersperséd vacancies 

And momentary pauses of the thought! 

My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart 

With tender gladness, thus to look at thee, 

And think that thou shalt learn far other lore, 

And in far other scenes! For I was reared 

In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim, 

And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars. 

But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze 

By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags 

Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds, 

Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores 

And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear 

The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible 

Of that eternal language, which thy God 

Utters, who from eternity doth teach 

Himself in all, and all things in himself. 

Great universal Teacher! he shall mould 

Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask. 

         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 night-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.

Public Domain

For an explication of this poem by Katharine Robinson, click here.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834) was an English poet, literary critic, philosopher and theologian who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. His critical work, especially on William Shakespeare, was highly influential, and he helped introduce German idealist philosophy to English-speaking culture. He had a major influence on Ralph Waldo Emerson and on American transcendentalism.

2 comments on “Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Frost at Midnight

  1. loranneke
    February 21, 2020

    “Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,

    Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,

    Fill up the intersperséd vacancies

    And momentary pauses of the thought!

    My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart

    With tender gladness, thus to look at thee, ”

    So lovely!

    Liked by 1 person

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