Frost at Midnight
Introduction: The poem was written in the year 1798 at Stowey and printed with other poem Fear in Solitude and France: An Ode. The poem is written in a contemplative mood. The writer’s thoughts wander back to his own past or are projected forward ‘to the future of his little son, Hartley Coleridge. The stillness of the night is maintained throughout the poem and nowhere does any violence of thought disturb the quiet of the night or the harmony of the poet’s mind. The poem reflects Wordsworthian influence in the sense that it reveals his belief in Pantheism.
Explanation and Critical Notes
Ministry– function, to do or accomplish one’s work
Presageful– Expectant or anticipation.
Stranger-The word is used for that film.
There was a superstition that whoever saw this film at night would receive a visit from a friend or a relative in the course of the next day.
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music ………………all the hot Fair day—The bells of the church used to ring throughout the day when there was a fair in the village. The sound of the bells was the only music which the poor villagers could enjoy.
Haunted-echoed in his ears.
Articulate-distinct; full of meaning.
Vexes– troubles, disturbs.
Populous– densely populated
Tufts– bunches; clusters of snowflakes
In a great city-London
Cloister dim-The dim and dark walks of school or college.
Nought– nothing; clothe-cover. Tufts-bunches; clusters of snowflakes
Sun thaw-snow melting in the sun; eves- drop-drop of rainwater;
Icicles– frozen drops of water
Falling on mine ears most like articulate sounds of things to come—The music of the bells was not without meaning. As it fell in the poet’s ears, it seemed to give him an intimation of future events. In other words, the music of church bells used to stir in him a vague sense of coming events.
But! how oft …………….. most like articulate sounds of things to come! (Lines 24-33)—When the poet was still a student at Christ’s Hospital’, he often used to look at the bars of the grate to catch sight-of that film. He had been given to understand that the sight of a fluttering film on the grate was an omen indicating the arrival of some friend or relative in the course of the following day. Therefore he used to be anxious to catch sight of the film because that would mean that some relative would come to see him at school on the following day. Whenever he gazed at the fire, he was reminded of his native place from where a relative could be expected to come. The thought of his native place brought to his mind the village church, which in its turn, reminded him of the church bells which used to ring all the day long on the occasion of a fair and the sounds of which were the only music which the poor villagers could afford to enjoy. The music of the church bells was, indeed, very sweet and thrilling to him in his childhood and it used to stir in him vague intimations of coming events.
Christ’s Hospital was the name of a charity school in London. It was also known as the Bluecoat School because its pupils wore blue coats. This school was founded by Edward VI. In this school were educated Coleridge, Charles Lamb, and Leight Hunt.
(Lines 35-44)—So gazed I, till the soothing things……………… prolonged my dreams !—The poet used to keep gazing at the grate. He would, on these occasions, think of sweet things connected with his native village. The pleasing memories of his village used to send him to sleep, and in his sleep, he would see dreams of his native place. In other words, the memories of his native place continued to visit his mind during his sleep in the form of dreams.
And so I brooded all the following morn ………………..swimming Book—throughout the next morning at school, he continued thinking of his native place and waited for the visitor and guests from there.
Interspersed– in between, intervals
Lines 1-7. The frost is performing its function invisibly. No wind is blowing to help the frost. The loud cry of the owlet is being heard at intervals. All the inmates of my cottage are asleep. I am quite awake except that my little child is sleeping peacefully in a cradle by my side. This solitude is favourable to philosophical thinking.
Lines 8-15. There is perfect silence all around. Indeed, this silence is so complete as to disturb one’s thinking. ‘Sea, hill, wood, this village with its all inhabitants and its numerous activities and occupations—these are all silent like dreams. The thin blue flame of the fire, which has burnt itself low, is quite motionless. The only active thing here is that film which has been quivering on the grate and which is still quivering there.
Lines 16-23. The movement of that film, in the midst of the complete silence all around, connects with me because I, too, am awake. There is a vague bond between me and the film because both of us are active or awake. ‘Thus the film is a sort of companion for me. In this mood of idle thinking, I interpret the irregular movements or fluttering of the film according to my own moods or whims. Thus my mind seeks everywhere a reflection of itself and. plays with ideas as one plays with a toy.
Lines 24-35. When I was a student I, often used to look at the bars of the grate because I believed that if I could see the fluttering film there, it would indicate the arrival of some friend or relative the next morning. Every time at the thought or sight of that film I used to see in my imagination my sweet native-place with its old church-tower whose bells rang from morning to evening on the hot fair-day. These church bells provided to the poor villagers the only music that they could ever hear. As for me, the sweet music of the church bells aroused a passionate joy in me and seemed to be a prophecy of future events. Thus, as a boy at schoo1, used to look fixedly at the film and imagine sweet things until I fell asleep, and in my sleep, I saw equally sweet dreams.
Lines 36-43. The next morning, on waking up, my mind would still be occupied with thoughts of home and some relative who might come to see me. Being afraid of the stern teacher, I used to keep looking at the book as I sat in the classroom, pretending to read; but my ‘mind used to be elsewhere. The words in the book used to be only dimly visible to me through my tears. Every time somebody half-opened the door of the classroom, I looked hastily, and wit1 a hopeful heart, for some visitor—a townsman, an aunt or a beloved sister, a play-mate of my younger days, when both she and I were clothed in similar garments. ‘
Lines 44-53. My dear child, sleeping in the cradle by my side! the sound of your gentle breathing is clearly audible to me in this deep silence, and it fills up the short intervals between the various thoughts that are coming into my mind. You are a lovely little child and as I look at you, my heart is filled with deep love and joy. Your education and your bringing will be of a different kind from mine. I was brought up in the great city of London in the midst of congested houses and buildings where I could see nothing beautiful except the sky and stars.
Lines 54-64. But you, my little son, will wander freely like the wind along lakes and sandy sea-shores, under the immemorial rocks and mountains, and below the clouds which in their immensity represent or symbolize the vast lakes, oceans, and mountains. In this way, you will see the beautiful objects of Nature and hear the meaningful sounds of the everlasting language of God who from the beginning of the universe has always revealed himself in all objects of Nature. Nature is the supreme teacher of mankind and will give the right shape to your character and personality, and you will be so influenced by Nature as to seek her company still more.-
Lines 65-74. (As a result of your constant contact with Nature) you will love all seasons. You will love the summer when the earth is all covered with green verdure. And you will love the winter when the red-breast sits and sings among the snow-flakes on the leafless branches of an apple-tree all overgrown with moss, while vapours are seen rising from the roof of’ a nearby cottage when the snow on it is melting in the heat of the sun; You all also love the time when rain-drops fall from the eaves and their sound is heard only in the silent intervals and pauses of the storm, and when, as a result of frost invisibly forming itself, the water-drops become frozen and are seen shining silently in the light of the silent moon.
The poem is a picture of an evening spent by the poet by his fireside on a frosty night. The first stanza builds up the atmosphere of the night when complete silence prevails, broken only by the occasional cries of the owlet. The frost is settling invisibly and there is no breeze. The poet sits alone by the side of his little son sleeping peacefully in a cradle. As he was sitting beside the fire, at the low-burnt fire, he sees a fluttering film on the ‘grill’. He feels that there is a bond of sympathy between him and that film. He interprets the movements and fluttering of the film according to his own changing thoughts and fancies. The poet is here indirectly expressing the belief that outward objects merely reflect or mirror our own thoughts and moods.
The sight of the fluttering film reminds the poet of his school-days and he becomes reminiscent. He recalls that whenever at school he saw that film on the grate, he superstitiously believed that a friend or a relative would come to see him from his native place. The thought of his native village with the bells ringing all the hot fair-day was sweet to him. He also remembers that, when he sat in the classroom pretending to study his book, he was all the time expecting some dear relative or friend to arrive. There is an element of autobiographical sense which gives us a glimpse into the school-life of Coleridge at Christ’s Hospital where he had been a student.
In the next passage, the poet addresses his son, Hartley Coleridge. He makes a plan for his baby’s future. While he was himself brought up in the suffocating atmosphere of London, he would put this baby into close contact with Nature. The baby will wander like a breeze in natural surroundings and will see the lovely objects, as well as hear the sweet sounds, of Nature. The boy will grow up under the benevolent and educative influence of Nature. He will learn a lot in the company of Nature. His believes that God reveals himself through Nature and thus God will mould the character of the baby through the medium of Nature. These lines contain the belief that is called pantheism, namely the belief that the Divine Spirit pervades all objects of Nature and that God reveals himself through Nature. These lines were written under the influence of Wordsworth.
The poem ends with striking pictures of summer and winter. The child will grow to love all seasons—whether summer covers the whole earth with green grass and green plants, or the redbreast sits on an apple-tree singing its wintry song in the midst of snow-flakes, or the drops of water falling from the roofs of cottages freeze into icicles shining quietly in the light of the quiet moon.
1. How did the poet Coleridge find the atmosphere of the poem Frost at Midnight in consonance to his mood?
Answer: 1. The contemplative mood of the poet is throughout in perfect harmony with the surroundings in which the poet is sitting. The complete silence of the atmosphere is in consonance to his contemplative mood. He interprets the movements and fluttering of
the film according to his own changing thoughts and fancies. The poet is here indirectly expressing the belief that outward objects merely reflect or mirror our own thoughts and moods.
2. What does the fluttering of the film on the grate remind the poet of?
Answer: The fluttering of the grate foretells the arrival of certain visitors.
3. Why does the poet want to up bring up his son in the company of nature? What is the name of his son?
Answer: The poet wants to bring up his son in the company of nature because of its educative and moral influence. He will learn a lot in the company of Nature. His believes that God reveals himself through Nature and thus God will mould the character of the baby through the medium of Nature. The boy will grow up under the benevolent and educative influence of Nature.
4. Discuss the mood of the poem.
Answer: The poem Frost at Midnight was written in the year 1798 at Stowey and printed with other poem Fear in Solitude and France: An Ode. The poem is written in a contemplative mood. The writer’s thoughts wander back to his own past or are projected forward ‘to the future of his little son, Hartley Coleridge. The stillness of the night is maintained throughout the poem and nowhere does any violence of thought disturb the quiet of the night or the harmony of the poet’s mind.
4. Write a critical appreciation of the poem, “Frost at Midnight”.
Answer: Please refer to the critical analysis of the poem above.
1. Discuss Frost at Midnight as an autobiographical poem.
2. What qualities of Coleridge’s poetry are to be found in Frost at Midnight?