Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight” is a free verse conversation poem originally written in 1798. In the poem Coleridge uses strong descriptive imagery to emphasize his idea that his son needs to be raised in nature. Coleridge exhibits a conversational quality through a writing style that is not overly embellished and the way the speaker allows the reader to engage in his personal thoughts.
The poem begins late at night as “the frost performs its secret ministry” (line 1). Everyone in the house is asleep except for Coleridge who sits with his sleeping son in a cradle by his side. Coleridge begins to meditate but the silence interrupts his concentration: “’Tis calm indeed! so calm that it disturbs/ And vexes meditation with its strange/ And extreme silentness…” (lines 8-10). Observations of his surroundings send him back to his childhood, a time when he loved nature. He speaks about times in school when he would daydream about leaving the confinement of school to return to the nature he once knew: “And as oft/ With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt/ Of my sweet birthplace…” (lines 26-28). He wishes for his son to experience the nature that he was not able to. He embraces the idea that although he was raised in the city his son will have the opportunity to experience and live in nature.
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 (lines 51–62).
The ideas presented in “Frost at Midnight” work in accordance with the concepts of poetry that William Wordsworth addresses in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads. In the Preface to Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth points out the way social life of the city has caused people to become detached from elementary human nature found in rural life. Wordsworth states: “…from their rank in society and the sameness and narrow circle of their intercourse being less under influence of social vanity, they convey their feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions.” The rural life conveys innocence through its connection to the natural world that is not accessible in the city. City life is crowded by social rank and a need to be the same, in rural life everything is slowed down and easily comprehended. This is attributed to the purity of the natural world which is unclouded by the worries that come with city life. Coleridge exhibits Wordsworth’s thoughts about nature in the poem as he reflects on his past in the city and the way he wishes for his son to experience and learn through nature in an innocent way.