Nature and “My Babe So Beautiful”

Young Eden

Young Eden

Tuesday

I got to hold my latest granddaughter for the first time yesterday as we visited my son and his family in Atlanta. Although it was a beautiful spring day, I thought of Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight” as I gazed at the sleeping child.

That’s because Coleridge meditates on how God will speak to his own infant child as he grows up. The “great universal teacher” works through nature—“the Frost performs its secret ministry”—and will communicate to young Hartley through the mountains, lakes, and clouds of the Lake District: “So shalt thou see and hear/ The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible/ Of that eternal language.”

This teacher teaches the spirit of inquiry and spiritual exploration. Or as Coleridge puts it, “he shall mold/Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.” This is exactly what I want for young Eden:

Here’s the second half of the poem:

        Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side, 
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm, 
Fill up the intersperséd 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 shalt 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. 
Great universal Teacher! he shall mold 
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask. 

         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 night-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.

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