Frost at Midnight as Artistically Unified in Design

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      What makes Frost at Midnight an achieved artistic whole is the design and the organization in the movement of the thought.

      The centre is die Ego, the 'I', the seeing, remembering, projecting mind the man sitting in a cottage-room at night. From the room the mind moves out, by stages, first to the physical context of weather and sound, then to the village, then to the world "all the numberless goings-on of life". Next with a swift contracting transition, unexplained, in the middle of a line (L. 13) it comes again to the fire. The movement of the film on the grate suggests the very kind of movement which the mind itself is here making - "the idling spirit by its own moods interprets".

      But the film, the "fluttering stranger" sets the mind off again outside, now backwards in time, through memory. And in the school boy reminiscence, the same process happens again that has already happened in the cottage. From Christ's Hospital, the boy's mind goes back and outwards to Ottery: then forwards outwards to the possible visitor who might come to him out from school. Just as the poem as a whole is anchored to the original cottage rooms with the "low-burnt" fire a phrase which comes centrally in the first paragraph, so the Christ's Hospital paragraph is anchored in the central phrase which produces the image of the school boy:

Awed by the stern preceptor's face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book.

      From the memory of school the mind next comes back to the cottage room, by comparison between the two childhoods: the London school boy (Coleridge) seeing "nought lovely but the sky and stars" and Hartley (the poet's son) to see everything that Nature has to give.

      This leads into the short passage of six lines on the Theistic Metaphysics (Pantheism) of Nature. More is not necessary, for this includes and justifies the whole poem.

God is Himself in all, and all things in himself.

      The quiet transition to the last passage is one of the most beautifully effective things in the whole poem. It returns to the opening context of seasons, weather and sound through the imagining of Hartley's future, and comes round fully at the end to "the secret ministry of frost", and the quietness of the winter night with which it began.

      Not only do the movements of the mind give the poem its design and unity, but the poem as a whole leaves, us with a quite extraordinary sense of the mind's very being in suspense, above time and space: the mind with all its powers of affection and memory and its power of reading "Nature as the language of God". The predominant emotion is the deep, tender affection for the child. Not only is the ending one of the finest pieces of short descriptive writing in the language, intricate and yet at the same time sparsely clear, compressing so much of the moods of various weathers, but it also perfectly rounds the movement of the mind which has been the poem's theme.

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