“Frost at Midnight” is a seventy-four-line “conversation” poem, written in blank verse paragraphs of varying lengths. In the middle of a February night, the poet is sitting alone in his cottage. (The location is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s cottage at Nether Stowey, near Bristol.) His baby son sleeps peacefully by his side; the other members of the household have all gone to bed. The poet watches frost forming silently on the windows and hears the hooting of owls. Apart from that, everything is silent. It is so calm and quiet that it makes the poet uncomfortable. He thinks of all the “numberless goings-on of life” that exist in the nearby village, and in the nearby wood and sea, yet nothing can be heard.
Then his attention is drawn to the fireplace, and he notices a film of soot fluttering on the bar of the grate. He feels a vague kinship with it because it is the only thing he can perceive that seems as restless as he is. Coleridge explained, in a note attached to the poem, that in England such films were often called “strangers” and were thought to announce the arrival of an absent friend. This sends the poet into a reverie in which he reflects on his childhood. He thinks back to how, while at school, he had often gazed at these “strangers” in the grate. Under the intimidating eye of his stern teacher, he would then pretend to study. Whenever the door opened, or even half-opened, he would look up expectantly, hoping to see the...
(The entire section is 512 words.)