Today is the birthday of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), and so I post this excerpt from one of his poems, Frost at Midnight. Coleridge’s better-known works include the innovative yet strange (one might even say alarming) poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, but I chose one that reveals another side of this unhappy, troubled, brilliant man: a tender-hearted and optimistic poem written while caring for his new infant son Hartley. Clearly he anticipates a loftier path for Hartley than the one he has followed himself.
Accompanying it is a detail from a larger painting.Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side, Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm, Fill up the interspersed 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 shall 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.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge