The Watchman

The eight of Coleridge’s poems listed above are now often discussed as a group entitled «Conversation poems». The term itself was coined in 1928 by George McLean Harper, who borrowed the subtitle of The Nightingale: A Conversation Poem (1798) to describe the seven other poems as well.[22][23] The poems are considered by many critics to be among Coleridge’s finest verses; thus Harold Bloom has written, «With Dejection, The Ancient Mariner, and Kubla Khan, Frost at Midnight shows Coleridge at his most impressive.»[24] They are also among his most influential poems, as discussed further below.

Harper himself considered that the eight poems represented a form of blank verse that is «…more fluent and easy than Milton’s, or any that had been written since Milton».[25] In 2006 Robert Koelzer wrote about another aspect of this apparent «easiness», noting that Conversation poems such as «… Coleridge’s The Eolian Harp and The Nightingale maintain a middle register of speech, employing an idiomatic language that is capable of being construed as un-symbolic and un-musical: language that lets itself be taken as ‘merely talk’ rather than rapturous ‘song’.»[26]

A statue of the Ancient Mariner at Watchet Harbour, Somerset, England

The last ten lines of «Frost at Midnight» were chosen by Harper as the «best example of the peculiar kind of blank verse Coleridge had evolved, as natural-seeming as prose, but as exquisitely artistic as the most complicated sonnet.»[27] The speaker of the poem is addressing his infant son, asleep by his side:

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 nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

In 1965, M. H. Abrams wrote a broad description that applies to the Conversation poems: «The speaker begins with a description of the landscape; an aspect or change of aspect in the landscape evokes a varied by integral process of memory, thought, anticipation, and feeling which remains closely intervolved with the outer scene. In the course of this meditation the lyric speaker achieves an insight, faces up to a tragic loss, comes to a moral decision, or resolves an emotional problem. Often the poem rounds itself to end where it began, at the outer scene, but with an altered mood and deepened understanding which is the result of the intervening meditation.»[28] In fact, Abrams was describing both the Conversation poems and later poems influenced by them. Abrams’ essay has been called a «touchstone of literary criticism».[29] As Paul Magnuson described it in 2002, «Abrams credited Coleridge with originating what Abrams called the ‘greater Romantic lyric’, a genre that began with Coleridge’s ‘Conversation’ poems, and included Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, Shelley’s Stanzas Written in Dejection and Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale, and was a major influence on more modern lyrics by Matthew Arnold, Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, and W. H. Auden.»[23]