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Frost at Midnight

'Frost at Midnight' is a 1798 poem by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It focuses on the value of nature and its sacred relationship to God.

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Frost at Midnight

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'Frost at Midnight' is a 1798 poem by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It focuses on the value of nature and its sacred relationship to God.

Below is a summary and in-depth analysis of 'Frost at Midnight'.

Written in1798
Written bySamuel Taylor Coleridge
FormConversation poem
MetreBlank verse
Rhyme schemeUnrhymed
Poetic devicesPersonification
Frequently noted imageryNatural imagery
ToneCasual, informal, loving
Key themesReligion, parent-child relationships
MeaningNature's sacred link to God. The importance of the natural world's peace and serenity.

Coleridge: 'Frost at Midnight'

Let's consider an excerpt from Coleridge's poem:

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,

...

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!

...

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.

'Frost at Midnight': summary

Below is a stanza-by-stanza summary of Coleridge's poem.

Stanza one

The narrator opens 'Frost at Midnight' by stating that there is frost all around, letting readers know that the the poem's setting is Winter. A young owl can also be heard. The narrator is sitting in a countryside cottage while his companions sleep. This narrator is likely Coleridge himself as the 'I' pronoun is used. He is currently deep in thought while his young child is asleep in a cradle beside him. The cottage is so silent that Coleridge feels it is almost too quiet. There is a busy village and lots of nature surrounding the cottage, yet there is still silence. Coleridge also writes that his fire has now dwindled and is almost out.

Stanza two

However, the end of the fire remains and is making some noise. Coleridge feels solidarity with the small flame as they are the only two who seem to be awake. He then takes this a step further and compares the two more philosophically. He writes of a 'Spirit' that observes the behaviour of the flame. This can be linked to Coleridge's philosophical beliefs that the human spirit and thoughts are separate. The flame represents human thought processes that operate differently from the inner human spirit.

Stanza three

The third stanza of 'Frost at Midnight' involves a flashback. Coleridge thinks back to another time when he gazed at a flame in a fireplace, when he was a young boy at school. Coleridge spent his time at school dreaming of where he was born. It was a small place where church bells rang, which Coleridge finds a very comforting sound. This comparison suggests that his school was located somewhere very different, somewhere much more urban. These daydreams were so pleasant that they would lull Coleridge into an actual slumber. The following morning in school, the young Coleridge still finds himself daydreaming about his home. He pretends to be reading to avoid the anger of his stern teacher. However, any time the door opens, he hopes it will be someone from that town, like his aunt or sister. Coleridge craves familiarity.

Stanza four

Stanza four moves to address Coleridge's young child lying peacefully beside him. His mind becomes filled with thoughts of his child. Coleridge is delighted that his child will not have the urban upbringing that he did. Instead, his child will be surrounded by nature. He lists all the natural wonders his child will experience, like 'sandy shores' and 'ancient mountains'. Coleridge links this relationship with nature to a relationship with God. He sees God as using nature to teach humans valuable lessons. Coleridge believes his child will become closer to God by becoming closer to nature.

Stanza five

In the final stanza of 'Frost at Midnight', Coleridge details the values of each season, from Summer to Winter. He believes his child will recognise this too because of their intimate relationship with nature and God. 'Frost at Midnight' ends with this message of the value of the natural world. It appears that Coleridge is giving a gift to his child by encouraging a relationship with nature.

'Frost at Midnight': meaning

'Frost at Midnight' focuses on how sacred nature is for Coleridge. He views it as something invaluable that contributes positively to one's upbringing. The poem creates a direct link between nature and God. In worshipping nature, one also worships God. Coleridge believes that God is the one who has created this natural landscape and speaks through it.

Coleridge's poem also focuses on the peace and serenity that nature can bring. It argues for nature's power to enrich one's childhood.

Frost at Midnight, A close up of snow at dawn in a natural scene, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Perhaps Coleridge saw a similar frosty, winter scene

'Frost at Midnight': theme

Religion is a key theme in 'Frost at Midnight'. Coleridge was a religious man for the duration of his life, but believed in a more liberal version of worship. He disagreed with literal interpretations of the Bible. 'Frost at Midnight' promotes the idea that one can gain a closer relationship with God through time spent in nature. The natural world is sacred, safe, and respected in this poem. Coleridge sees God's image as ever-present in nature, as evident in the below quote. He views this as God's way of communicating with people.

so shalt thou see and hear

The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible

Of that eternal language, which thy God

Utters (ll. 59-62)

Parent-child relationships are another relevant theme in 'Frost at Midnight'. Coleridge addresses multiple stanzas of the poem to his sleeping child lying next to him. He contrasts the childhood he experienced and the one he is planning for his child. Coleridge did not grow up in his quiet hometown. Instead, he spent his youth in a bustling city. He believes a childhood spent in nature is integral to one's development and relationship with God, and he intends to give his child this life that he never had.

Importance of nature in 'Frost at Midnight'

Nature is central to 'Frost at Midnight'. One of the ways Coleridge displays this is through the use of a plethora of natural imagery. The poem is intensely descriptive and depicts nature in a large amount of detail. An example is quoted below:

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 (ll. 67-71)

Here, Coleridge describes various seasons, from Summer to Winter, by using the imagery of how the particular seasons manifest themselves in nature. This is done with a great deal of care and positive language. Coleridge uses this kind of imagery as a way to praise nature. He sees nature as something valuable that can help humans build a better relationship with God.

What other instances of natural imagery can you spot in 'Frost at Midnight'?

Personification in 'Frost at Midnight'

Personification is a poetic device used in 'Frost at Midnight'.

Personification is when human characteristics are attributed to non-human things, like objects or animals.

The device can be found in the below lines of 'Frost at Midnight'.

The Frost performs its secret ministry,

Unhelped by any wind. (ll. 1-2)

The frost named in the title is then personified in the first stanza. It is performing a 'secret ministry,' which is not something frost would typically do. This is a human characteristic attributed to something non-human.

The ministry referred to is linked to nature's relationship with God. Just like all aspects of nature for Coleridge, frost can be used to teach people about God and spirituality. Its ministry is to help God communicate with humans.

'Frost at Midnight': analysis

Below is a further analysis of 'Frost at Midnight'.

Form, metre, and rhyme scheme

'Frost at Midnight' is typically defined as a conversation poem. It is made up of five stanzas of varying lengths.

Conversational poetry is a genre most associated with Coleridge and his long-time friend and collaborator William Wordsworth. These poems use informal language and often focus on landscapes, dilemmas, and philosophical questions. They try to mimic conversational language.

'Frost at Midnight' is also written consistently in blank verse.

Blank verse is unrhymed iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is when a poem has five iambic feet per line.

Blank verse is one of the closest metres to human speech patterns. Coleridge likely chose this to aid the informal language of 'Frost at Midnight', as is common in conversation poems. Coleridge's belief that humans should spend time in nature is mirrored by the natural metre and pacing of the poem.

Tone

The tone of 'Frost at Midnight' is casual and informal. This is typical of the conversation poem genre. Coleridge feels at home and comfortable in nature, and this is reflected in the poem's tone.

Some of Coleridge's stanzas are addressed to his young child. This adds a loving tone to 'Frost at Midnight'. He deeply adores his child and wishes to teach them the importance of the natural world.

Frost at Midnight - Key takeaways

  • 'Frost at Midnight' is a 1798 poem by renowned poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
  • It is a conversation poem written in blank verse.
  • The poem revolves around nature and its sacred connection to God.
  • Religion and parent-child relationships are two key themes in 'Frost at Midnight'.
  • Personification is a poetic device used by Coleridge in his poem.

Frequently Asked Questions about Frost at Midnight

Coleridge reflects on the importance of nature in 'Frost at Midnight' and vows to teach this to his child.

There are five stanzas in the poem.

The poem is relevant because it exemplifies Coleridge's views on the value of nature and how it can bring one closer to God. Much of Coleridge's poetry revolved around the theme of nature.

'Frost at Midnight' is about how God can communicate with humans through nature.

The metre of the poem is blank verse.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

When was 'Frost at Midnight' written?

What form is 'Frost at Midnight'?

What poetic device does Coleridge use in this poem?

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