Compare and Contrast "Tintern Abbey" and Samuel's Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight."

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many similarities between "Tintern Abbey" and "Frost At Midnight." This is not particularly surprising, as Wordsworth and Coleridge were close friends and collaborators who shared a common aesthetic vision. The first thing to note is that there are similarities at the structural level, with both poems written in blank verse. But it is in terms of tone and content that the similarities really begin to emerge.

The one main difference between the two poems lies in the language used. Wordsworth, in keeping with his and Coleridge's statement of intent in "Lyrical Ballads," is more direct in his language, and much simpler, whereas Coleridge noticeably departs from his earlier intentions, writing in a more abstract vein. He uses a number of metaphors whose meanings aren't at all clear at first glance. For instance,

The Frost performs its secret ministry.

Having said that, Wordsworth's language, though generally quite simple, does represent something of a departure from his other poems in "Lyrical Ballads," such as "We Are Seven" and "The Idiot Boy."

Nature inspires in both men a deep, philosophical reflection. But in the case of Coleridge it's a much more abstract style of philosophizing ("abstruser musings"), heavily influenced by his in-depth study of German Idealism.

Both men are engaged in reminiscence. Wordsworth recalls the time five years ago when he last visited the area he is about to see once more; Coleridge recalls aspects of his childhood. In both cases, nature is the catalyst for reflection. For arch-Romantics such as Wordsworth and Coleridge, the natural world is not just a source of the pretty and picturesque; it is a creative force with a life of its own. It also has an important didactic function—it teaches us. But what it teaches us can change over time. When Wordsworth first visits Tintern Abbey, he's overwhelmed by the beauty of the natural world around him. And the memory of that stunning vision has sustained him ever since.

But now things have changed. Now, Wordsworth sees in nature the fundamental connection of all things, an underlying unity that bridges the gap between human beings and nature:

And I have felt 
A presence that disturbs me with the joy 
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime 
Of something far more deeply interfused, 
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, 
And the round ocean and the living air, 
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man: 
A motion and a spirit, that impels 
All thinking things, all objects of all thought, 
And rolls through all things.
Wordsworth is still "a lover of meadows and woods," but now he doesn't just appreciate nature, he understands it.
 
Coleridge's reminiscence of childhood is also triggered by nature, in his case the appearance of frost on the window panes at midnight and the owlet's plaintive cry. He is alone with his thoughts and begins to reflect on years past. Wordsworth's memories of his previous visit to Tintern Abbey are happy; they kept him going as he struggled against the harshness of city life. Coleridge, however, recalls the boredom of schooldays, his memories brought on by a fluttering film of soot, a "stranger" on the fire-place grate.
 
For Coleridge, no less than Wordsworth, nature is a great teacher. The little piece of flapping ember doesn't just take him back to his schooldays, it allows him to connect past with present and present with future. Like Wordsworth, he sees the underlying unity of things. In the figure of his sleeping baby, he has presentiments of a better childhood for his son than the one he endured himself. His child will be brought up in a natural environment, where he will soon come to understand the world as it really is by unifying it with his imagination.
 
Wordsworth, too, looks to a close relative as he surveys the future beyond. His sister still retains the childlike sense of wonder at nature that he himself enjoyed the last time he visited Tintern Abbey. But he is certain that one day, she too will come to recognize the interconnectedness of all things.
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are plenty of comparisons and also differences between these two poems. Both are clearly Romantic works in the way that they are meditations on nature and nature is described, and how it acts as an inpiration to our imagination and how nature compares to the urban squalor enjoyed by so many in this period of Industrialisation. Also, both poems directly refer to the way in which adulthood and childhood are related in the memory in relation to nature.

One of the key differences, however, is the way in which childhood is regarded. In "Tintern Abby," Wordsworth, who was raised in the countryside, talks about the way in which his childhood was a time of intense connection with nature. In various poems he deilberately goes back to his childhood as a source of inspiration and also to soothe his feelings. Coleridge did not enjoy such an idyllic childhood, and was raised in London, "pent 'mid cloisers dim," and he in this poem finds Wordsworth's easy link with childhood and nature problematic. Coleridge during his childhood says he "saw naught lovely but the stars and sky" and this clearly was a struggle for his childhood.

Coleridge in "Frost at Midnight" therefore determines that his child will enjoy the kind of innocent and rustic upbringing that Wordsworth enjoyed, "by lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags / Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds." One of the key differences between these two poems is therefore the way in which Coleridge presents the link between childhood and nature as being something that cannot be taken for granted, His own lack of this connection is something that demonstrates this key difference.

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