Frost at Midnight – Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Analysis

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 intersperséd 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 night-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 (1772 - 1834)

S1 – The scene is Coleridge’s cottage at Nether Stowey in Somerset. The infant is his son Hartley when aged 17 months. He finds time to himself as other members of the household are in bed. But instead of devoting time to composition he is caught in appreciating the stillness and the dying state of the fire and this becomes his centre of attention and detracts from other considerations. He shares these thoughts in conversation with the reader. The busyness of the village is asleep and is an inaudible background like a dream.

The film is a piece of soot fluttering on the bar of the grate. The only thing that is alive. Coleridge noted that ‘In all parts of the Kingdom these films are called strangers and are supposed to portent the arrival of some absent friend’

S2 – The fluttering sound of the film is the only life around him in the stillness. It becomes his companion and a toy for his thoughts.

S3 – The film now represents the absent friend of his birthplace. Coleridge was born at Ottery St Mary, Devonshire but went to school at the age of nine in London after the death of his father. So, he now recalls the times when a child. In particular, he liked the music of the church bells – the poor mans only music. The ‘stern preceptor’ was the teacher Rev. James Boyer at Christ’s Hospital, London where Coleridge went to school. And when at school in London he would think back to his childhood in the village. He fondly recalled family and play mates at times when he should have been concentrating on school work. His sister and himself were both clothed alike.

S4 – Coleridge now spends his thoughts on appreciating the beauty of his baby son. And he hopes he will have the chance to spend much time with nature; lamenting the fact that he had a city life. This was not entirely true as his first nine years were in the country. And this might have had a profound endearing effect on this dissertation on his love of nature and the hope that his son will come to similar appreciation. And he identifies a strong spiritual link – Of that eternal language, which thy God Utters. A nice way to put it that nature is the language of God. And the stanza ends with recognition of the connection of God in the development of the human soul – Great universal Teacher! he shall mould / Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.


S5 – If his son has this understanding of nature therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee. He then identifies aspects of each season. He gives particular emphasis to winter and I do like the image of  the night-thatch / Smokes in the sun-thaw. And like the opening there is that word – ministry again.

Very appropriate given the emphasis on the spiritual link with nature.

For a thorough guide to this poem see the following Site.  – in the Poetry Foundation – Poem Guide

Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Wikipedia.

The Nature of Love – Rabindranath Tagore – Comments

The Nature of Love

The night is black and the forest has no end;
a million people thread it in a million ways.
We have trysts to keep in the darkness, but where
or with whom — of that we are unaware.
But we have this faith — that a lifetime’s bliss
will appear any minute, with a smile upon its lips.
Scents, touches, sounds, snatches of songs
brush us, pass us, give us delightful shocks.

Then peradventure there’s a flash of lightning:
whomever I see that instant I fall in love with.
I call that person and cry: ‘This life is blest!
For your sake such miles have I traversed!’
All those others who came close and moved off
in the darkness — I don’t know if they exist or not.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941)

Tryst = secret romantic meeting

Here are my thoughts on this philosophic poem from this Indian prophet/poet master.

Love and nature go hand in hand for many regard the creation of the universe as being based on love. In that way it is a fitting link in the title.

Lines 1-4 … Life can be mysterious and likened to a forest where we transact with many as we live. Trysts imply romantic associations in our meetings with others. True that we never know who we are going to meet each day and that Christians are impelled to love others in life but not necessarily like them of course. But romantic love is something different so I have to come to terms in reconciling the tryst idea in transactions with others.

Lines 5-8 … Do we search for bliss over our lifetime? And do we have faith that we will eventually find this magical substance through living? Well the process of living gives snatches of delightful shock to the senses.

Lines 9-14 … I have broken this sonnet with a blank line for the last 6 lines give dramatic change from the bliss of human relationships to the wondrous flash spiritual encounter with love supreme. In other words you could say a mountain top experience of God. And ‘For your sake such miles have I traversed!’ implies that this gives meaning to life. And the sonnet ends stating that human relationships fade away and are not real in comparison – ‘I don’t know if they exist or not’.

The poem is a personal spiritual statement. How the reader relates to such is equally personal and based on individual life experience. A poem that engenders thought on our spiritual nature.

Rabindranath Tagore on Wikipedia

Summary info … Rabindranath Tagore was born on 7 May 1861 in Calcutta. He was India’s greatest modern poet and the most creative genius of the Indian Renaissance. Besides poetry, Tagore wrote songs (both the words and the melodies), short stories, novels, plays (in both prose and verse), essay on a wide range of topics including literary criticism, polemical writing, travelogues, memoirs and books for children. Apart from a few books containing lectures given abroad and personal letters to friends who did not read Bengali, the bulk of his voluminous literary output is in Bengali. Gitanjali (1912), Tagore’s own translation of the poetic prose from the Bengali Gitanjali (1910) won him the Nobel prize for Literature in 1913. Tagore died on 7 August 1941 in the family house in Calcutta where he was born.

It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free – Wordsworth – Comments

It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the Sea;
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

William Wordsworth

Evenings always seem to be a special time of the day. And Wordsworth is totally absorbed in the beauty of the evening, breathless in adoration.

But this is a very special time for Wordsworth for he is in France walking the beach with his illegitimate daughter not seen since he left Paris at the time of the French Revolution. She would be about twelve years of age.

The lines …

                     Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
                     And doth with his eternal motion make
                     A sound like thunder—everlastingly

… obviously relate to the background of the sea … but Wordsworth is in reflective philosophical mode as he is stunned by the beauty of nature and equally the mighty Being could refer to the creator noting that Being is capitalised.

At the Volta the last six lines of the sonnet reflect on the nature of a child who is untouched by such thought. But none the less the child lies in the care of God though she may not know it. Reference is made to ‘Abraham’s bosom’ and a religious heritage of connectivity. Abraham being the common patriarch of three religions.

No matter the mental capacity of a person in an understanding God and independent of age God is there in a supportive role – especially for children. Well, I belief in a caring God for all. A great pillar of support to have such belief.

The Sabbath … is an ‘evening to evening’ observance … more details via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabbath_in_Christianity

However, there is nothing to stop us having a quiet holy time whenever in communication with God and creation – whether ‘a thank you for just the joy of life’ or for any other personal reason.

 

The Ash Plant – Seamus Heaney – Spirituality

The following poem by Seamus Heaney was written in memory of his cattle-farming father. He wrote it in 1986, two years after his father’s death, and four years after his mother’s.

The Ash Plant

He’ll never rise again but he is ready.
Entered like a mirror by the morning,
He stares out the big window, wondering,
Not caring if the day is bright or cloudy.

An upstairs outlook on the whole country.
First milk-lorries, first smoke, cattle, trees
In damp opulence above damp hedges –
He has it to himself, he is like a sentry

Forgotten and unable to remember
The whys and wherefores of his lofty station,
Wakening relieved yet in position,
Disencumbered as a breaking comber.

As his head goes light with light, his wasting hand
Gropes desperately and finds the phantom limb
Of an ash plant in his grasp, which steadies him.
Now he has found his touch he can stand his ground

Or wield the stick like a silver bough and come
Walking again among us: the quoted judge.
I could have cut a better man out of the hedge!
God might have said the same, remembering Adam.

Seamus Heaney

Carol Rumens the English poet selected this poem as one of her weekly selections. The following is a link to her detailed exploration of the above text. See https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/may/23/poem-of-the-week-the-ash-plant-by-seamus-heaney.

Included in that discussion is the following paragraph –

Five solid quatrains, the wonderfully effortless ABBA half-rhyme, a firm pentameter beat, and the emphasised cadence of numerous feminine line-endings: these building blocks have and contain the density of the real world, but they signify more. The father in the poem is waking up after his death, “Entered like a mirror by the morning.” He is uncertain, a new shade, unmoored from life but not far beyond it, like a sentry “unable to remember / The whys and wherefores of his lofty station” (as a sentry’s ghost might be perplexed in a Northern Ireland of future ceasefire). Then “his wasting hand” finds “the phantom limb” of the Ash Plant and “… he has found his touch and can stand his ground”. It’s a lovely image that suggests a frail old man in his later years taking up his stick and, in that moment, finding his balance and becoming sure on his feet, as if recovering a younger body. The shade is transfigured, and, light-filled, he gains full authority. And once again the son gently smiles at the father and teases him as “the quoted judge” for his dry comment, “I could have cut a better man out of the hedge!”

I mention this in particular because the second line ‘Entered like a mirror by the morning’ caught my imagination as a wonderful metaphor for the new life of a ‘shade’. A mirror can never tell us who we really are but on death Heaney implies a walking through the mirror to an understanding of a new self from the other side of the mirror. And then he suggests the generation of a spiritual presence in on-going life as a ‘sentry’.

You can imagine Heaney’s Father in the top bedroom of an old farmhouse looking out over his life’s endeavour and being proud of what he has achieved over the years. The ‘damp opulence’ is an appropriate choice of words. Damp and Ireland are synonymous and opulence is such a good choice (compare to wealth). And here he is being reborn to this environment taking his first tentative steps from on high. It is interesting that he needs the support of the Ash Plant. Rod and Staff and Psalm 23 come to mind. But can he protect the future on the way the land will change as the years unfold. It would be somewhat poetic to think that he had some on-going influence as a ‘shade’.

I think there is a sense of humour in the statement – ‘I could have cut a better man out of the hedge!’. To me it implies that he could have done better. And to suggest that God could have done better is quite entertaining.

The literary significance of the Ash Plant is discussed in detail by Carol Rumens.

It is a very interesting poem showing Seamus Heaney had a somewhat mystical thinking on a resurrection and an after-life.

London Rain – Louis MacNeice

This year many of the the poets visited in our U3A (University of Third Age) sessions have had some connection with religious ministry. When you come to think about it it is not surprising. Ministers are thought-full people – don’t you think!

Louis MacNeice was no exception. His father was a Protestant minister who later became a bishop of the Anglican Church of Ireland. Below is Louis MacNeice’s poem ‘London Rain’, written at a time of conflict in Europe. He wrestles with thoughts on God as he looks out late at night on the rain. Sharing my comments which are shown in italics after each stanza.

 London Rain

The rain of London pimples
The ebony street with white
And the neon lamps of London
Stain the canals of night
And the park becomes a jungle
In the alchemy of night.

London night-time rain … I love that word pimples and the catch of light in the pimple from the street lamps … ebony = rich dark black wood … giving a little gloss to the dark … and there is a whole new mapping of the streets … as in a chemical reaction …the light staining, leaving it’s mark

My wishes turn to violent
Horses black as coal–
The randy mares of fancy,
The stallions of the soul–
Eager to take the fences
That fence about my soul.

This looks like dissatisfaction on where he is in life … in terms of violent horses … he wants to break free … and this may be a spiritual unrest when we look at later stanzas

Across the countless chimneys
The horses ride and across
The country to the channel
Where warning beacons toss,
To a place where God and No-God
Play at pitch and toss.

Well his thoughts travel across the channel to the war and this occupies his mind … God and No-God (the Good and the Bad) playing pitch and toss = a game of skill and chance

Whichever wins I am happy
For God will give me bliss
But No-God will absolve me
From all I do amiss
And I need not suffer conscience
If the world was made amiss.

He is talking about the God/No-God battle going on in his mind. If there is a God – everything will be OK and if No-God then it doesn’t matter about all the conscience problems … these are his on-going thoughts as he watches the rain … his logic…dare I say late-night logic!

Under God we can reckon
On pardon when we fall
But if we are under No-God
Nothing will matter at all,
Adultery and murder
Will count for nothing at all.

Expounding his thoughts from the previous stanza … bad behaviour will not matter … no accountability… and under God we will be absolved of all our missdemeanours.

So reinforced by logic
As having nothing to lose
My lust goes riding horseback
To ravish where I choose,
To burgle all the turrets
Of beauty as I choose.

So his logic suggests to him that this horse can ride amuck with no consequence … taking the No-God ride so to speak … and using this to justify any course of action

But now the rain gives over
Its dance upon the town,
Logic and lust together
Come dimly tumbling down,
And neither God nor No-God
Is either up or down.

It looks as though it has stopped raining for a while … and in sync. with this his God/No-God thinking seems to fall away too … well it is late night and he is a little confused

The argument was wilful,
The alternatives untrue,
We need no metaphysics
To sanction what we do
Or to muffle us in comfort
From what we did not do.

The argument was very wilful = headstrong … and indeed ‘we need no metaphysics = abstract thinking’ … and in his case no ‘God/No-God’ thoughts to work out what we should be doing or to justify our actions. (I might add that those that shout God is on our side are often using God to justify their ungodly actions.)

Whether the living river
Began in bog or lake,
The world is what was given,
The world is what we make.
And we only can discover
Life in the life we make.

Bog and lake are references to his Irish / English heritage. For me this is the key stanza … it is up to us to make what we will of the world, of this gift … and we can only discover how we should live in living life. In a sense it is up to us – our responsibility to create our own God (and if we do happen to believe in an external God then perhaps our understanding of God may come clearer). Focus on the gift of the present, the here and now…don’t worry about what is happening overseas!

So let the water sizzle
Upon the gleaming slates,
There will be sunshine after
When the rain abates
And rain returning duly
When the sun abates.

Well, rain and sun one will follow the other in an endless cycle (good and bad) – that is the way of the world and we have to accept it – (hopefully life improves over time!)

My wishes now come homeward,
Their gallopings in vain,
Logic and lust are quiet,
And again it starts to rain;
Falling asleep I listen
To the falling London rain.

His mind is now back on where he is … in his room looking out on the falling rain … the logic/lust distraction of thought in vain … and the wild horses that took his thoughts away at the beginning of the poem bring him home again … he notices it has started to rain again … falling rain and enough thinking for one night falls asleep… let’s hope he has pleasant dreams!

(The rhyming scheme is a b c b d b – with a repeat end word in lines four and six of each stanza).

The Silken Tent – Robert Frost

THE SILKEN TENT

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when a sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all the ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe nought to any single cord,
But strictly held by none is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To everything on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

Here is a fine example of the English sonnet by Robert Frost that takes my fancy. Iambic Pentameter with structure abab cdcd efef for the three quatrains and then the rhyming summary couplet

The opening line although a little cumbersome is perhaps ‘as good as’ … she walks in beauty like the night (Byron)

Interesting word used ‘guys‘ a double take in today’s usage that happens to fit the theme of the sonnet.

… what a wonderful way to walk the world … being special, gentle, at ease with life, and bonded to all in a loose sort of way in love and thought connected … by countless silken ties of love and thought

… and of more importance tied by a strong spiritual sense … not dependent on any one alone but everyone giving something to hold her in place to a heavenly position (to the central cedar pole) … and this heavenly connection making her effective in coverage … making the person effective in life as well as making the tent usable … imagine a sagging tent without an upright central pole

… I really like the suggested ambience in the closing couplet … and the word capricious = fanciful, unpredictable … quite fitting … moving freely in the lightness of a summer breeze – and only by going slightly taught does she (or indeed we) become aware of that heavenly connection that binds – always subtle, always latent

Here is a link to Robert Frost on Wikipedia