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Short poem

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

Frost at Midnight

              1The Frost performs its secret ministry,
              2Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cry
              3Came loud--and hark, again! loud as before.
              4The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
              5Have left me to that solitude, which suits
              6Abstruser musings: save that at my side
              7My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
              8'Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
              9And vexes meditation with its strange
            10And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
            11This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
            12With all the numberless goings-on of life,
            13Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
            14Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
            15Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,

            16Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
            17Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
            18Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
            19Making it a companionable form,
            20Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
            21By its own moods interprets, every where
            22Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
            23And makes a toy of Thought.

            24               But O! how oft,
            25How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
            26Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
            27To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft
            28With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
            29Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
            30Whose bells, the poor man's only music, rang
            31From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
            32So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
            33With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
            34Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
            35So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
            36Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
            37And so I brooded all the following morn,
            38Awed by the stern preceptor's face, mine eye
            39Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
            40Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
            41A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
            42For still I hoped to see the stranger's face,
            43Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
            44My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!

            45      Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
            46Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
            47Fill up the interspers{'e}d vacancies
            48And momentary pauses of the thought!
            49My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
            50With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
            51And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
            52And in far other scenes! For I was reared
            53In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim,
            54And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
            55But thou , my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
            56By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
            57Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
            58Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
            59And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
            60The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
            61Of that eternal language, which thy God
            62Utters, who from eternity doth teach
            63Himself in all, and all things in himself.
            64Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
            65Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

            66      Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
            67Whether the summer clothe the general earth
            68With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
            69Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
            70Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
            71Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
            72Heard only in the trances of the blast,
            73Or if the secret ministry of frost
            74Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
            75Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.


1] Published in a quarto pamphlet with "Fears in Solitude" and "France: An Ode."

15] only that film. Coleridge notes: "In all parts of the kingdom these films are called strangers and supposed to portend the arrival of some absent friend."

42] my sister: Ann, his only sister, who had died at the age of twenty-four in 1791.

72] The first (1798) more extended conclusion to the poem read as follows:

Or whether the secret ministery of cold
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet moon,
Like those, my babe! which ere tomorrow's warmth
Have capp'd their sharp keen points with pendulous drops,
Will catch thine eye, and with their novelty
Suspend thy little soul; then make thee shout,
And stretch and flutter from thy mother's arms
As though wouldst fly for very eagerness.
In the fourth book of Cowper's Task is a passage describing a "brown study" (apparent thought but real vacuity). Coleridge's poem seems to owe something to Cowper though it differs significantly in finding meaning in the "indolent vacuity of thought."

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: S. T. Coleridge, Fears in solitude: written in 1798 during the alarm of an invasion: to which are added France, an ode; and Frost at midnight (London: for J. J. Johnson, 1798). PR 4480 F4 1798 VICT Rare Books
First publication date: 1798
RPO poem editor: Kathleen Coburn, R. S. Woof
RP edition: 3RP 2.444.
Recent editing: 4:2002/3/20

Composition date: February 1798
Composition date note: dated so by Coleridge
Form: Blank Verse

Other poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge