Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Frost at Midnight

This poem was written February 1798 and published in a quarto pamphlet the same year, then included in the Poetical Register (1808-9) and other collections of Coleridge’s writings from 1812 onwards. (Robert Clark)

       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,
5 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
10 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;
15 Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
  Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
  Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
  Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
  Making it a companionable form,
20 Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
  By its own moods interprets, everywhere
  Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
  And makes a toy of Thought.
                                               But O! how oft,
  How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
25 Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
  To watch that fluttering stranger! and as oft
  With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
  Of my sweet birthplace, and the old church tower,
  Whose bells, the poor man's only music, rang
30 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,
35  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
40 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 !
       Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
45 Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
  Fill up the interspersèd vacancies
  And momentary pauses of the thought!
  My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
  With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
50 And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
  And in far other scenes! 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
55 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
60 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.
65      Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
  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 nigh thatch
70 Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
  Heard only in the trances of the blast,
  Or if the secret ministry of frost
  Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
  Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

First published 1798.

Contributed by Robert Clark.