Frost at Midnight

We have a randomly-chosen winner in the Boreal giveaway! Jennifer – who loves winter light, crisp grass, and snowy silence – I have just emailed you! Many congratulations.

I really did enjoy reading your comments – so many of you wrote so movingly about the different things that are special to you at this time of year. A couple of contributions about the profound silence of a Winter’s night, and sharing that quiet time with a child, reminded me very strongly of one of my favourite Winter poems – Coleridge’s Frost at Midnight. I am very fond of Coleridge’s conversation poems, and of this one in particular. I really don’t think you could wish any more for a child than what he expresses in the last ten lines. So thanks for all your comments, and here is the poem as a seasonal treat for those of you who don’t know it.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Frost at Midnight (1798)

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,

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,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
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 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!

Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the intersperséd vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
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
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.

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
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.

34 responses

  1. Beautiful poem, nature and natural things always the best and most precious, like the pics in your previous post. Love bells, apple trees and the moon. May you have a peaceful happy festive season.

  2. So lovely. Thank you.

    I thought of you last night, Kate, as I read this Christmas story (to myself, tho’ I used to read it to my sons), and wondered what you would think of this passage:

    “Sam went back to the house where Ann sat by the fire knitting Badger’s muffler. She used a pair of holly-wood knitting needles which Sam had made. A pile of scarlet holly-berries lay in a bowl by her side and she knitted a berry into the wool for ornament here and there. The blackthorn knitting needles with their little white flowers were, of course, put away for the winter. She only used those to knit spring garments.” The Christmas Box by Alison Uttley

    Wishing you a peaceful holiday, with moments of joy. May the next year have more healing and more of your wonderful accomplishments in it.

  3. Oh that is lovely, the poem. I appreciate that you shared it with us, I had forgotten all about that one. Can’t wait to get the pattern for the sweater and start on it. The yarn is a Christmas present from someone special :) Thanks again, Kate.

    How is Bruce enjoying the weather? My black Lab, Oreo, is having a ball. Time to go out and play again!

  4. I’m super impressed at the thought of you writing out the whole thing. Now I’m hoping you scanned it into ome program instead! But that is really lovely.

  5. What a wonderful Christmas present. This tender and beautiful poem has always moved me very much. Thank you for sharing it with us, and a Happy Christmas to you and yours.

  6. I’ve been traveling and missed the giveaway. but my favorite part of winter is the quiet and rebirth that the season represents. there is a sense of restarting. of quiet contemplation. of a do-over, if you will. I know that is how most people think of spring, but by then, the rebirth has begun. winter is when we gather our forces, hunker down and regenerate our energy to face another year. I hope that you find peace and energy and hope in this season. happy holidays.

  7. I was not familiar with this poem (not surprising, I’ve only read a few of the British Victorian poets). It really struck me “all of a heap.” A beautiful work.

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