Views of Coleridge on Education in Frost and Midnight

In his famous and contemplating poem, ‘Frost at Midnight,’ Coleridge in the second stanza of the poem travels past to his harsh and uneasy school days. His mind always enthused by his gloomy memories of his school days.

The owlet’s cry

Came loud–and hark, again! loud as before.

(Frost At Midnight)

He remembers with great pain the experiences at Christ Hospital School. He had no good memory of his school days. The bells of the old church-tower were like twinkling sounds filling on his ears like a prophecy of sweet dreams that some relatives or friends would visit him and he will enjoy some good time with them.

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,…

(Frost At Midnight)

The post failed to concentrate on his studies because he went to the school due to the pressures of the family, society and religion. It was not his will. He wanted to live in his village with nature but he was almost forced to go to school that he never liked.  He always fixed his eyes on the book only to pretend and fool the stern and strict headmaster Rev. James Bowyer. Due to his attitude, the poet became severe homesick at school.


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

(Frost At Midnight)

The school days at Christ’s Hospital School haunted Coleridge like a scary nightmare. Coleridge silently listens to his son, Hartley Coleridge and explores the relationship between the environment at the school and his happiness. He shares his lamentations on his physical and emotional confinement in his school. Inner discomfort and education gained in nature will make all seasons ‘sweet to thee’ giving the child a new perceptive about life.

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!

(Frost At Midnight)

The poet could not fully hold and focus on his studies because of his different exposure and environment. He always used to think with expectations in the school that some visitor from his village would be there to meet him. He would just appear before his eyes. Even if the door of his classrooms opens a little, he would quickly gaze out of the room to see someone from his village. An aunt, a beloved brother or sister, a childhood playmate would be visiting him. The poem reflects his unplaced and mismatched concerns for his education beliefs. Here the poet was exploring his inner self in his failures.

Where lays the fault?

The Frost performs its secret ministry,

Unhelped by any wind.


The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,

Have left me to that solitude, which suits

Abstruser musings:

(Frost At Midnight)

Coleridge did not support forced and mandatory education. A child should be free to study according to his choice. A child should have the freedom to choose the subjects and the place of his study. It would be good if he remains near to his dear ones and near to his place during the study. It gives him added confidence and concentration.

Sea, hill, and wood,

This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,


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.

(Frost At Midnight)

Romantic age poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge resisted imagination as the human mind’s transitory imitation of the divine creation of the world. He wrote “The primary Imagination, I hold to be … repetition in the finite of the eternal act of creation.” Creative powers of the human mind imitate the divine words if they are free from pressures. If one remains with landscapes, nature, frost etc, one can get show the divine message to the world.

Coleridge was of the view that if a child has a happy environment; he will be a good teacher to the society, because, good and positive environment can enlighten the inner self of a child.

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

(Frost At Midnight)

Coleridge spent his school years in London in miserable conditions, “pent’ mid cloisters dim,” but he wishes his son Hartley will grow up in the natural rural areas where he can wander like a breeze/By lakes and sandy shores….”

The emergence of the “stranger” on the grate indication the coming of a guest, reminds Coleridge of his schooldays watching the “stranger” fluttering on the grate and hoping that visitor might arrive.

In the second stanza, the poet shifts the narration to his school days where he was at an inner discomfort that the post was feeling in his midnight vigil out a window. The student speaker is also looking out a window, discontent with the school environment, attempting to study and longs to go to nature. The failed attempts of a ‘mock study’ of his “swimming book” (line-38) when the strict teacher comes near, however, his thoughts were out of the half-open door.

He hopes a “stranger” (lines-26 and lines 41) which he imagines” fluttering” out the window. For him, this stranger desirable, “more beloved “than townsman, aunt, or sister to his eyes (line 42). School and studies were not important. He laments his school days-kept as was in “the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim” (line-52) where the only natural beauty was only the sky and stars.

He wished that his son will wander the fields and mountains, getting an education about the beauty and glory of nature. The child will learn “that eternal language, which thy God/Utters” (lines 60-61); in other words, nature will give him the best education about the world.

The poet declares that the education gained in the lap of nature make entire life “sweet to thy,” giving the child a new meaning of life that the poet cannot completely get because of his education in a big city and far away from his village and nature. The poet has trouble setting solitude in frosty midnight, and similarly, he could not concentrate on his studies.

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Posted in Tyranny.