Compare and contrast Joanna Baillie’s poem ‘A Mother to her Waking Infant” (Anthology 54) with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘Frost at Midnight” (Anthology 181). Discuss and compare the form and content of the two poems, then say which poem you prefer and why.
Romantic poets, Joanna Baillie and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, wrote both the two poems, ‘A Mother to her Waking Infant’ and ‘Frost at Midnight’ respectively in the late eighteenth century. In this essay we will examine both poems, compare and contrast the form and contents of the two poems and finally, I will discuss about the poem I prefer and why it appeals to me.Between the two poems, ‘Frost at Midnight’ is the more complex of the two poems. The poet looks into both the past and present, he imagines the future of his child and hopes that it would be better than his own.
The poem is set in the cold, winter night. The poet is sitting up along at night while everyone else has left him to his solitude except for his baby at his side. This poem is structured in a Romantic verse monologue. This is evident in the use of blank verses, unrhymed and an in iambic pentameter.
The poem is framed with the image of frost in the beginning and the end of the poem.The use of frost represents both an imagination as well as the image of cold and frozen as apposed to feeling and warmth. The poem also creates a sense of calmness and solitude in the surroundings of the poem, in contrast to his inner feelings, which is filled with mixed emotions. His surrounding is described as ‘the sole unquiet thing’, as appose to his inner feelings of his son’s future as he compares it to his own childhood.
As with the Romantic theme, nature was one of the central issues in the poem and this can be seen in the last stanza where all of the seasons are used, and he ends and begins with icicles.The poet believes in the learning through nature, unlike his own childhood education, which was formal. When he speaks of his son, the language use if more informal and pleasant. He is able to set aside his unhappiness of his formal education with the thoughts of his son who will ‘learn from lore, And in far other scenes! ‘ The poet was brought up in the city ‘pent ‘mid cloisters dim, And saw naught lovely but the sky and stars’, in contrast to his son who will ‘wander like a breeze By lakes and sandy shore.
Instead of having a ‘stern preceptor’ his son will be taught by the ‘Great universal Teacher! ‘ In contrast, the language for ‘A Mother to her Waking Infant’ is much simpler, this is due the poet addressing her baby as it wakes up.The poem basically explores the feeling of a mother towards her newborn baby. The structure of the poem is regular using rhyming couplets in iambic tetrameter. Upon reading the poem, the rhyme pattern gives the effect of a mother singing gently to her baby, like a lullaby.
From the poem we see the feelings of the poet changes towards her baby.At the start of the poem, the poet questions why she should sing for her baby, this then slowly develops to a more maternal feeling and finally how the mother looks towards the future for her child. As mentioned, the language of the two poems is very different. Coleridge uses a more complex language as compared to Baillie.
The reason for doing so is that his poem looks into the idea of nature, as compared to Baillie who basically addresses the baby, as a result, simpler language is used in the poem. However, Coleridge’s language is reflective of the ideas that he wishes to puts across.In the beginning, he uses more complex and formal language as he expresses a more complex idea and his uneasiness. This changes to a less formal language as he looks back on his childhood and the fond memories that he had with his sister.
Both poems ends with hope for their children, however, the contrast is that in Coleridge, he hopes for the best for the future of his child, whereas Baillie hopes are more selfish as she hopes that her child will look after her during her old age. The two poems have a common theme, that of feelings towards their baby.However, the structure and depth are different. ‘A Frost at Midnight’ is more narrative and this can be seen by the use of punctuations.
The use of exclamation marks in ‘and hark, again! ‘ and ‘Tis calm indeed! ‘ shows how the noise and silence shocks the poet. Baillie’s poem on the other hand is more structured and shows that some planning had been made before the writing of the poem. Enjambment is also used in Coleridge’s poem, which enables the lines to follow his thoughts and imagination whereas Baillie uses punctuation on almost every line of his poem.Coleridge also uses blank verses in non-rhyming iambic pentameter as the poem reflects the poet’s thoughts.
The use of blank verses reflects the importance of nature, God and thoughts. On the other hand, Baillie has a more regular and simple couplets, which were used in satirical or didactic poems. One thing in common between the two poets is their perception towards their child. Coleridge is annoyed by his child’s silence.
Baillie describes her baby with shortcomings, describing the baby as ‘toothless’, ‘helpless’ and ‘shapeless’.This shows a lack of attachment towards the child. As with their common perceptions in the beginning, their feelings towards that child also changes at the end of the poem. Coleridge fondly calls his baby as, ‘My babe so beautiful! ‘ and in Baillie’s poem her baby is looked upon fondly in an entire stanza.
The tone of the two poems also differs. Coleridge’s poem is more reflective and personal and it would allow a reader to reflect upon their own personal experiences with their own child.As compared to Baillie’s where it speaks of a character of a mother and the mother’s feelings towards her child. This puts across a more detached feeling that the writer has towards children as it lacks personal experiences and feelings.
From what we have seen above, romantic poems from the same era can put across a common theme in different ways by using different structure, language, tone and narrative technique. The way a poem is conveyed is dependent on the experiences and exposure that the writer has and their own command and use of language.It was hard to decide which poem I preferred. Being a father myself my thoughts and feelings towards my children is reflected in both the poems.
When they were newborns, I wondered if they understood a word I said and why did I even bother speaking to them, as they are unable to respond, a similar feeling in Baillie’s poem. However, as they grow up, I look back at my own childhood memories and compare to the memories and experiences that my children would have and wish that theirs would be much better than mine.My hopes for my children are similar to both poets, as much as I hope for the best for my children, I also hope that they would be looking after my wife and me during our old age. However, having to choose between the two, ‘A Mother to Her Waking Infant’ is more enjoyable and pleasing and somewhat easier to understand but on a personal level, ‘Frost at Midnight’ appeals to me more as it touches different levels of emotions and it shares my hopes and dreams that I have for my four lovely children.