One important aspect and recurring theme throughout romantic poetry is the connection between the natural world and children. In Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight” and Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” childhood is a sacred time during which the natural and human realms become intertwined. In both poems there is a clear relationship between the elements and children and although this bond is explored in slightly different ways, the romantic notion of the inextricable link between the human and natural worlds is prominent. Adulthood becomes a time to consider the practical aspects of nature and to exist within it while childhood offers the opportunity to actually bond with and become nature itself. Because of this special time of almost magical and pure bonding between the natural world and childhood, one gets the sense that both poets are trying to convey an air of the supernatural associated with this theme.
Unlike those writing Victorian Poetry, the romantics consider childhood to be a time when nature, humanity, and even God are at one with one another and this magic lasts until the onset of adulthood. Once a child is an adult, the mysterious and powerful connection is severed and thus the romantic ideal of a supreme unity of the universe (through the child/nature relationship) exists no longer. Both poems at once lament this loss of a romantic relationship between earth, children, and God, as well as rejoice at the prospect of witnessing it occur with the children they are surrounded by.
In Coleridge’s poem, “Frost at Midnight,” in the true form of romanticism, the speaker considers childhood—both his own and that of the infant sleeping next to him—and discusses how nature and children are intertwined and, in many ways, dependent on one another. Interestingly, in this poem the natural world outside of the speaker’s home reflects the infant’s state of deep sleep and the reader is told, ‘Tis calm indeed! So calm that it disturbs / and vexes meditation with its strange / And extreme stillness. Sea, hill, and wood…” (lines 5-10). Even before the poem and its themes have begun to unravel the reader is offered this clear connection between childhood and the natural world as the image of an ice-encrusted landscape deep in slumber is complimented by that of a deeply sleeping baby. These thoughts, which come to speaker because of the stillness of the outside world and the sleeping baby cause him to reflect about his own childhood and he mourns that he was not able to experience the important connection to the natural world because, as he puts it, “For I was reared / In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim, / And saw naught lovely but the sky and starts” (lines 55-57). As an adult, the speaker recognizes the importance of having an immediate and tangible connection to the natural world and vows that his infant “Shalt wander like a breeze / By lakes and sandy shores…” (lines 58-59) and will be exposed to the natural elements so that he may not experience the melancholy that speaker has when considering how he was denied this exposure.
In “Frost at Midnight” by Coleridge, the speaker promises his child that he will understand nature and, “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” (lines 60-64). With this closing thought the speaker relates children and the natural world to God as well and demonstrates how seeing, hearing, and experiencing natural will allow his infant to be closer to God and understand him better. Because of this connection of the natural world, the child, and God, the speaker maintains that “all seasons shall be sweet” (67) to the young child as long as this relationship continues. In this poem it is clear that the speaker (perhaps because of his early lack of immediate connection to nature) realizes that there is something sacred about a child having direct access to the natural world. He seems to believe that this proximity will allow the infant to experience God and the concept in romanticism literature and poetry of unity between the human and natural worlds. Even though the speaker recognizes that there is a city outside of his quiet house that will eventually envelop the infant as he reaches adulthood, this foreknowledge does not taint the hopeful theme of the poem and states that the child, with access to nature, will go on to develop an almost magical connection with the world around him.