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Compare and contrast the following two poems: Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'Frost at Midnight' and Joanna Baillie's 'A Mother to her Waking Infant.'

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Introduction

Write an essay of 1500 words, in which you compare and contrast the following two poems: Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'Frost at Midnight' and Joanna Baillie's 'A Mother to her Waking Infant.' In comparing and contrasting the two poems, it is logical to firstly acknowledge the titles, and to think about how they shape the way we read, and how they set the readers expectations. Baillie's title of 'A Mother to her Waking Infant' is very clear and factual, and fully describes the stanzas that follow. The term of 'A Mother' is quite impersonal, and alludes to the lack of emotion conveyed in the first four stanzas. It also leaves the reader with the impression that the poet isn't necessarily speaking about her own child. In direct contrast Coleridge's title of 'Frost at Midnight' does not hint at all that it is a poem about childhood, or that Coleridge is speaking about his own child. It does however, depict a romantic winter scene, and you feel that there will be a release of strong feelings to follow. The form and structure of the poems are very different. 'Frost at Midnight' is written in four stanzas without rhyming, and 'A Mother to her Waking Infant' is written in eight stanzas with regular rhyming. This gives the poems a very different meaning and effect. ...read more.

Middle

Her language becomes softer with the use of 'warm, grace and kindness'. The infant described by colours ' rosy cheek', 'pinky hand', and 'gold tipped ends' brings the poem alive and the reader is at last presented with some powerful, vibrant images. The additional two lines indicate the turning point in the poem too. Baillie uses enjambment to steer the reader to certain points that she is making, and to emphasise their meaning. An example of this is in the fifth stanza. 'With gold-tipped ends, where circles deep around thy neck in harmless grace so soft and sleekly hold their place.' The words paint a vivid picture of the child's ringlets and 'so soft' creates a pause, and allows the reader to think about the imagery. Coleridge uses the recurring theme of imprisonment throughout the poem to indicate that he is unsettled and trapped by his thoughts. He uses 'inmates, bars' and 'pent' to convey this imagery. The stillness of the flame 'quivers not' and the film fluttering being 'the sole unquiet thing' also adds to his feeling of unrest. The rich imagery is very apparent in the third stanza where he describes the 'sky and stars,' and lakes, mountains and clouds. This language must come from the influence of Coleridge's early friendship with Wordsworth, especially with the quote 'shalt wander like a breeze,' which could quite easily be taken from Wordsworth's 'I wandered lonely as a cloud'. ...read more.

Conclusion

These techniques associate the poem with the time in which it was written. The final three stanzas of 'A Mother to her waking infant' take on a melancholic feel when Baillie employs words like 'gloomy, surly, wilt, weary, weak, pity and frail'. The clever repetition of 'wilt' in the seventh stanza although meaning will, comes across as also meaning to droop or fade because of the words which surround it, which is very much in context of the pessimistic language. Although the two poems are predominantly about the same subject matter of childhood, the reader experience is poles apart due to the difference in form, structure, language and imagery. Both poems look to the future, but Coleridge ends with hope and is upbeat, whereas Baillie ends with a sense of sadness. Coleridge draws the reader in with his conversational style and the insight into his thoughts and feelings, and in contrast Baillie could be describing any baby in her balladic form. 'Frost at Midnight' thoroughly engages the reader with its rich visual imagery and intimate language, which make the poem a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The contrasting regular form of 'A Mother to her Waking Infant' does not really give you an insight into Baillie as a poet. As a reader of 'Frost at Midnight' we truly gain an understanding of Coleridge as a parent concerned for his sons future, and the night scene is successful in conjuring up memorable images. ...read more.

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