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Frost at Midnight - Essay

  • Date Submitted: 02/14/2012 07:50 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 40.5 
  • Words: 462
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In “Frost at Midnight,” Coleridge explores the relationship between environment and happiness and also reflects on the idyllic innocence of childhood. The construction of this poem, in which Coleridge’s infant son is the silent listener, is significant for Coleridge’s musings on the above themes. In “Coleridge the Revisionary: Surrogacy and Structure in the Conversation Poems,” Peter Barry highlights the “surrogacy” element that is present in many of Coleridge’s conversation poems. Barry defines surrogacy as “the core of the central meditative episode” that is “a transaction between the speaking persona and a surrogate self, that is, another person onto whom are projected or disposed key elements of the speaker’s own personality, dilemmas, or thought processes” (602). In “Frost at Midnight,” the infant Hartley serves as Coleridge’s surrogate. After Coleridge shares his lamentations on his physical and emotional confinement in urban England during the latter part of his childhood, Coleridge declares (and rejoices in the fact) that Hartley will be brought up in a more pastoral life and will be closer to nature than his father was. Thus, Coleridge projects on his son his own longing for childhood innocence and his belief that closeness to nature brings happiness.
The familiar motifs of the power of sleep, dreams, and imagination are also present in “Frost at Midnight.” The image that connects these themes is the “thin blue flame” in the fireplace. In “Coleridge and the Scene of Lyric Description,” Christopher R. Miller identifies the “flickering of [the] ember” as a “[counterpoint to] Coleridge’s own insomniac musings” (521). Likewise, Peter Barry asserts that the dying flame is representative of Coleridge’s reproof of the “directionlessness in his thinking” (620). Barry further clarifies Coleridge’s use of the dying flame as a metaphor for his “idling Spirit”: “like the flame, his own intellectual spirit is puny, unable to achieve lift-off, purposeless,...

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