Frost at Midnight

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 interspers├ęd 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.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Frost at Midnight


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