Coleridge, "Frost at Midnight"

First version, 1798

Return to Contexts

Published in Fears in Solitude (London: Joseph Johnson, 1798), a quarto pamphlet that also included "Fears in Solitude" and "France: An Ode."

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
With which I can hold commune. Idle thought!
But still the living spirit in our frame
That loves not to behold a lifeless thing,
Transfuses into all its own delights
Its own volition -- sometimes with deep faith
And sometimes with fantastic playfulness.
        Ah me! amused by no such curious toys
Of the self-watching subtilizing mind,
How often in my early schoolboy days,
With most believing superstitious wish
Presageful have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch the stranger there! -- and oft belike,
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
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 playmate when we both were clothed alike!
        Dear babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings heard in this dead calm
Fill up the interspersed vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought;
My babe so beautiful, it fills 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 redbreasts sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while all the thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or whether the secret ministry 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 capped 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 thou would'st fly for very eagerness.

              February, 1798