Guest poem sent in by Mark Penney All this Romantic poetry brought me back to my favorite Romantic poet of them all, particularly since it's really cold here tonight:
(Poem #1606) Frost at Midnight
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 interspersed 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.
One of the great things about the Romantics is their spectacular reinvention of blank verse. You could read "Frost at Midnight" almost without the awareness that there was conscious effort put into the meter. It's just a guy, looking out the window, watching his world freeze over, admiring its beauty, and then letting his mind wander from there. And yet it's in this most astoundingly beautiful and perfect, yet conversational, blank verse. Coleridge notes that films in one's grate are referred to as "strangers, supposed to portend the arrival of some absent friend." This poem captures the perfect beauty and stillness of a cold winter night better than any other poem I know. It's so still that the frost actually represents action; it's practically a living thing, performing its secret ministry. And then it's something so small and quiet as the motion of the film in the grate that starts Coleridge's own mind working--quietly too, in its own way. A masterpiece. -Mark [Biography] Minstrels has run three Coleridge poems before, but none since 2000; none of the previous posts contain anything at all in the way of biography. I'm not the Britannica, but here goes: Coleridge (1772-1834) was a contemporary and close friend of Wordsworth's; in 1798 the two poets wrote and published the seminal book Lyrical Ballads, which is generally regarded as the founding document of English Romanticism. (The full text is online in several places; go read it!) Coleridge is also notable as a literary critic and theorist; his Biographia Literaria is the seminal work in that area. The most famous Coleridge poems are undoubtedly Kubla Khan, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and this one. [Links] http://www.online-literature.com/coleridge/ has another biography and a selection of Coleridge's works