Coleridge writes frequently about children, but, unlike other Romantic poets, he writes about his own children more often than he writes about himself as a child. With particular reference to “Frost at Midnight” and “The Nightingale,” how can Coleridge’s attitude toward children best be characterized? How does this attitude relate to his larger ideas of nature and the imagination?
Like Wordsworth, Coleridge is wholly convinced of the beauty and desirability of the individual’s connection with nature. Unlike Wordsworth, however, Coleridge does not seem to believe that the child automatically enjoys this privileged connection. The child’s unity with the natural world is not innate; it is fragile and can be stunted or destroyed; for example, if a child grows up in the city, as Coleridge did, his idea of natural loveliness will be quite limited (in Coleridge’s case, it is limited to the night sky, as he describes in “Frost at Midnight”). Coleridge fervently hopes that his children will enjoy a childhood among the beauties of nature, which will nurture their imaginations (by giving to their spirits, it will make their spirits ask for more) and shape their souls.
Many of Coleridge’s poems—including “Frost at Midnight,” “The Nightingale,” and “Dejection: An Ode”—achieve their effect through the evocation of a dramatic scene in which the speaker himself is situated. How does Coleridge describe a scene simply by tracing his speaker’s thoughts? How does he imbue the scene with a sense of immediacy?
Coleridge utilizes simple and efficient methods to sketch his scenes—in “Frost at Midnight,” for instance, he opens his poem with his speaker explicitly contemplating the scenery outside; he uses a similar technique in “The Nightingale.” In both poems, the natural objects that the speaker describes prompt his thoughts in other directions. Coleridge maintains his scenes’ sense of immediacy by having his speakers be interrupted or startled by something happening around them; this technique serves to wrench the reader back from the speaker’s abstract thoughts to the living, physical world of the poem. The startling or disruptive elements often take the form of sounds, such as the owl’s hooting in “Frost” and the nightingale’s singing in “Nightingale.”