"Frost At Midnight", By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

1881 words - 8 pages

'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 disturbsAnd vexes meditation with its strangeAnd 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,This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,With all the numberless goings-on of life,Inaudible as dreams! (ll.10-13)Once again, we have the paradox of the "numberless goings-on" being "inaudible". But, again, the paradox is not just that - because at this time of night the "numberless goings-on" are literally "dreams", except in the one "live"...

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