Introduction to “Christabel” Part 1
“Christabel,” a captivating and unfinished poem by Coleridge. It consists of 677 lines divided into two parts. The first part, written in 1797 for the Lyrical Ballads, spans 331 lines, while the second part, which Coleridge began in 1801, remains unfinished. Despite its incomplete nature, the manuscript gained popularity among intellectuals and served as a model for works by Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron.
“Christabel” showcases the essence of romanticism, much like Wordsworth’s narrative poems exemplify naturalism. It is considered Coleridge’s unique masterpiece, a testament to his poetic skill and craftsmanship. The poem tells a tale filled with wonder and supernatural elements. The entire framework of the poem revolves around the supernatural. The evil spirit that possesses Geraldine, intent on destroying Christabel’s innocent happiness, embodies the tradition of vampires, evoking a sense of mysterious dread. Through Geraldine, Coleridge portrays the embodiment of evil forces from another realm, highlighting the vulnerability of humanity in their presence.
In essence, “Christabel” is a mesmerizing and enigmatic work that combines elements of the supernatural with romantic ideals. It invites readers to embark on a journey through Coleridge’s poetic realm, where wonder and darkness intertwine, and the spirit of romanticism flourishes.
Substance of the poem
In the depths of a chilly April midnight, Christabel, the beautiful daughter of Sir Leoline, ventured out of the castle. The sky was veiled with a thin layer of clouds, obscuring the full moon behind them. She made her way to the forest, driven by a dream she had the previous night about her beloved knight, for whom she wished to pray. Beneath the ancient oak tree, she knelt in silent devotion.
Suddenly, her prayer was interrupted by a mournful cry emanating from the other side of the tree. Curiosity piqued, Christabel cautiously approached and beheld a radiant maiden cloaked in a white silk robe, shimmering in the moonlight. Her complexion was fair, and her neck and arms were bare. The lady, adorned in opulence and unparalleled beauty, appeared out of place in the eerie woodland.
Inquisitive, Christabel inquired about her identity, and the lady introduced herself as Geraldine, hailing from noble lineage. Geraldine revealed that she had been abducted by five vile knights who had promised to return swiftly but left her stranded. Touched by compassion, Christabel comforted Geraldine and offered the aid of her father, Sir Leoline, and his horsemen. Together, they made their way back to the castle, crossing the moat and entering through a small gate.
As they treaded lightly through the hall, an aged mastiff, slumbering nearby, stirred restlessly in its sleep. Passing through, they found themselves in a chamber illuminated by flickering firelight. It was then that Christabel first caught sight of Geraldine’s peculiar eyes. Ascending a flight of stairs, they arrived at Christabel’s intricately carved bedchamber.
With no moonlight streaming in, Christabel lit a silver lamp, and Geraldine sank down to the floor. Christabel offered her a cordial wine, crafted by her departed mother from wild flowers. It was at this moment that Geraldine, in her despair, called out to the invisible spirit of Christabel’s mother, claiming the hour as her own. Christabel, oblivious to this supernatural plea, attributed Geraldine’s distress to the unsettling journey she had endured. The episode passed, and Geraldine consumed the wild-flower wine, rising gracefully to her feet. Removing her robe and inner vest, she stood unveiled before Christabel’s gaze. In turn, the two ladies peered into each other’s hearts.
With a bewitching touch, Geraldine cast a spell that ensnared them both, and time slipped away unnoticed. As the owls recommenced their nocturnal melodies, Christabel awoke from her trance. Her limbs grew weak, her expression tender and sorrowful, and her eyelids fluttered shut. Tears streamed down her face, and intermittent smiles graced her countenance. It seemed as if she beheld a vision of her guardian angel, bringing solace and protection in her tender state.
In the depths of the night, Christabel ventures into the mysterious forest to offer her prayers for her beloved knight. Meanwhile, residing in a grand castle nearby is Sir Leoline, a wealthy baron. Within the castle grounds, an aged mastiff, toothless and weathered, rests. As the clock strikes midnight, the mastiff emits four solemn howls, a ritual it faithfully performs. It is whispered among the inhabitants of the castle that the mastiff’s howls coincide with the presence of the spirit of the deceased baroness, an ethereal occurrence that only unfolds at the mystical hour of midnight.
The night air carries a biting chill, yet it lacks the veil of darkness. A wispy, grey cloud stretches across the expanse of the sky, casting a muted hue over the surroundings. Despite being in its full phase, the moon remains hidden behind the cloud, its radiance subdued and lackluster. It appears diminished in size, devoid of its usual luminosity. The month is April, a time associated with the awakening of spring, but nature’s signs of renewal and rebirth are conspicuously absent, as if the season itself lingers, hesitant to fully emerge.
In the midst of this prayerful hour, Christabel, adorned with her enchanting beauty, finds herself deep within the embrace of the woods. Beneath the sheltering canopy of a majestic oak tree, she assumes a kneeling posture and begins to offer her devout prayers. Yet, as the hallowed silence envelopes her, an unexpected sound reaches her ears—a haunting, sorrowful sigh emanating from the hidden realm beyond the massive oak.
Startled and filled with trepidation, Christabel leaps from her kneeling position, her heart pounding with a mixture of surprise and fear. The night air, crisp and cold, wraps around her, and the trees surrounding her stand bare, stripped of their verdant attire. It becomes evident that this mournful sound could not be attributed to the gusts of wind, for there is no breeze mighty enough to sway even a single strand of Christabel’s hair or ruffle the solitary red leaf clinging to the highest bough of the tree.
As Christabel’s heart quickens its pace within her chest, curiosity overcomes her fear. She tiptoes to the opposite side of the oak tree, guided by an irresistible urge to uncover the source of the haunting sighs. And there, before her astonished eyes, stands a maiden draped in shimmering silk, her neck possessing a radiance surpassing even the brilliance of her entire robe. Adorned solely by her ethereal beauty, her neck and arms remain exposed, unadorned by any covering. Her feet, delicate and adorned with veins like delicate threads of blue, remain untouched by the confines of sandals.
This mysterious maiden, whose attire bespeaks opulence, captivates Christabel’s gaze with her exquisite beauty. Intrigued and yearning for answers, Christabel musters the courage to inquire about her identity, breaking the silence that envelops them.
In a voice as delicate as a whisper, the enigmatic lady reveals herself to be Geraldine, beseeching Christabel for aid in her plight. Pervaded by a sense of distress, Geraldine imparts that she has fallen victim to the clutches of five formidable warriors who kidnapped her against her will. With desperation tinging her words, she implores Christabel, once again, to lend her assistance in this time of dire need. A sense of vulnerability and urgency permeates the air, drawing Christabel further into the enigma that surrounds Geraldine and igniting a spark of compassion within her.
With empathy and warmth, Christabel extends her hand to Geraldine, offering solace in her distress. Assuring her of her unwavering support, Christabel promises to assist her in whatever way she can. In a display of solidarity, the two women rise from their previous position and hasten their steps towards the safety of the castle, seeking the shelter it provides.
As they approach the fortress, Christabel, ever the gracious host, extends an invitation to Geraldine, requesting her to spend the night in her own bedchamber. In this gesture of compassion and camaraderie, Christabel aims to provide Geraldine with a sense of comfort and security amidst the tumultuous circumstances that have brought them together.
Navigating the formidable obstacle of the deep trench encircling the castle, Christabel employs her key to unlock a small door nestled precisely in the center of the gate. Crafted from iron on both sides, the gate stands as an imposing structure, seemingly capable of withstanding the passage of an entire army. Weariness overtakes Geraldine, causing her to collapse near the entrance. Summoning all her strength, Christabel tenderly lifts her companion, supporting her weight as they traverse the threshold.
To Christabel’s astonishment, once on her feet, Geraldine appears to be devoid of any discomfort or pain, moving with an ease that belies her earlier exhaustion. A sense of wonder fills the air, leaving Christabel to marvel at this mysterious turn of events.
Hand in hand, Geraldine and Christabel navigate the courtyard, their footsteps echoing in the hallowed silence. Christabel, aware of the divine power of prayer, encourages Geraldine to seek solace and strength through a plea to the Virgin Mary. However, Geraldine, weakened and drained, confesses her inability to speak, her energy expended by the trials she has endured.
Nonetheless, their journey across the courtyard remains uneventful, the sanctuary of the castle growing nearer with every step. As they traverse the path, their presence disturbs the slumbering form of the aged mastiff within the kennel. Stirred from her dreams, the faithful guardian emits a low growl, a testament to her instincts and protective nature, even in the depths of her sleep.
Silently, like whispers in the night, Geraldine and Christabel glide through the echoing hall, careful to tread softly to avoid rousing any slumbering souls within the castle. The hearth, once ablaze, now bears the remnants of dying embers, the wood reduced to white ashes. However, as Geraldine draws near, a sudden burst of flames dances to life, casting an illuminating glow upon the hall. In that flickering light, Christabel catches a glimpse of Geraldine’s eyes, captivating and mysterious, and her gaze falls upon the shield of Sir Leoline, nestled in a shadowy corner of the room.
Aware of the delicate nature of Sir Leoline’s sleep, for he seldom finds solace in undisturbed rest, Christabel urges Geraldine to maintain a gentle gait, ensuring that their presence remains undetected. They skillfully navigate past Sir Leoline’s bedroom, mindful not to awaken him from his slumber.
Finally, the two companions arrive at Christabel’s exquisitely carved chamber, a sanctuary adorned with intricate artistry. Sensing the need for illumination, Christabel kindles a lamp, casting a soft glow throughout the room. The moon, absent from the chamber, fails to cast its ethereal radiance upon the scene. Instead, the lamp, delicately suspended from an angel’s feet by two silver chains, offers its gentle light, illuminating the space with its enchanting glow.
As the lamp in the room flickers with a dim glow, Christabel tends to it, carefully trimming the wick to bring forth a brighter radiance. The gentle dance of the flames intensifies, casting a more luminous light that fills the chamber. Geraldine, once more overcome by weariness, collapses onto the floor, her strength waning.
In an act of compassion, Christabel reaches out to Geraldine, offering her a potent elixir crafted by her late mother. This wine, infused with the virtuous powers of wild flowers, holds the promise of rejuvenation and solace. With a tender gesture, Christabel presents the fragrant concoction to Geraldine, encouraging her to drink and find respite within its soothing embrace.
In a moment of vulnerability, Geraldine, in a voice tinged with an otherworldly quality, invokes the blessing of Christabel’s departed mother. However, Christabel gently informs her that her mother had passed away before her own birth, unable to fulfill Geraldine’s plea.
Suddenly, in a peculiar twist, Geraldine seems to engage in a conversation with an unseen presence, directing her words towards an imaginary woman and urging her to depart, as if this moment grants Geraldine an opportunity to exert her own power. Perceiving the strangeness of the situation, Christabel contemplates that the trials and tribulations Geraldine has endured during her haunting ride may have disrupted the balance of her mind, causing these disconcerting utterances.
Yet, just as quickly as the peculiar fit had arisen, it dissipates, fading into the ether. The moment passes, leaving Christabel to ponder the transient nature of this strange episode, her heart filled with compassion and a desire to provide solace to her enigmatic companion.
With the consumption of the wild-flower wine, a transformation takes hold of Geraldine. Her eyes begin to shimmer with a newfound radiance, illuminating the room with their enchanting glow. Rising from her place on the floor, Geraldine’s true beauty becomes evident to Christabel, captivating her gaze. She appears as a lady from a distant land, exuding an allure that belongs to realms unknown.
In a commanding tone, Geraldine instructs Christabel to undress and join her in bed. Yielding to Geraldine’s request, Christabel disrobes, surrendering her garments and reclining upon the bed. Yet, despite her physical exhaustion, her mind remains restless, filled with a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts that prevent her from finding peaceful slumber.
As Christabel lies on her side, propped up on her elbow, her eyes fixed upon Geraldine, a mixture of curiosity and unease fills her being. In an unexpected act, Geraldine too undresses, exposing her bosom to the intimate gaze of Christabel, revealing a vulnerability that adds another layer to the enigmatic connection between the two women.
Geraldine’s countenance reflects an inner turmoil, an anguish of the soul that weighs heavily upon her. The weight of her impending actions burdens her consciousness, casting a shadow over her being. However, in a moment of resolute determination, she gathers her strength and lies down beside Christabel, seeking solace in her embrace.
As Geraldine envelops Christabel within her arms, an enchantment begins to take hold. Christabel, now under the spell of Geraldine’s power, finds her own voice restrained, unable to disclose more than the simple truth of encountering Geraldine in the forest and extending her refuge within the castle walls. The purity of Christabel’s innocence, her maidenhood untainted, remains concealed, for Geraldine’s influence ensures the veil of secrecy remains intact.
The mark of shame, whatever it may be, is shielded from the outside world, held in the sacred bond between the two women. The power of Geraldine’s spell, woven through their connection, prevents Christabel from revealing the truth, thus preserving her dignity and shielding her from the potential judgment of others.
Christabel, ensnared in a state of trance, lies upon her bed with her eyes wide open, caught in the grip of a restless slumber. Fearful dreams visit her unconscious mind, causing her breath to come in gentle, rhythmic waves, and her face bears a resigned expression. Her eyes, on the verge of shedding tears, tremble with unspoken emotions.
Meanwhile, her companion, Geraldine, remains in a serene and tranquil slumber, akin to a mother embracing her child with utmost tranquility. An hour has passed since Geraldine took Christabel in her embrace, and during this time, an unusual stillness falls over the realm. The owls, dormant and silent, have kept their nocturnal hooting at bay.
But now, as if stirred by some mystical force, the owls resume their haunting hoots, their eerie calls echoing from the cliffs, towers, woods, and hills. Their voices permeate the night once more, intertwining with the enigmatic presence that hangs heavy in the air, as the realm comes alive with their eerie symphony.
As Christabel emerges from her trance, a serene tranquility washes over her countenance, erasing all traces of pain. Her face appears calm and peaceful, and she succumbs to a gentle slumber once more, her eyes closing in blissful repose. Tears, like glistening dewdrops, trickle down her cheeks, adorning her eyelashes with a radiant glow. In this state of fluctuating emotions, she experiences moments of both smiles and tears, a testament to the complex currents of her subconscious.
Now, within the depths of her slumber, Christabel seems to be immersed in a joyous dream. It is as if a benevolent guardian spirit stands watch by her side, or perhaps she feels the ethereal presence of her beloved mother surrounding her. The dream brings her solace and happiness, casting a comforting glow upon her sleeping form. In this blissful realm, she finds respite from the waking world’s tribulations, embraced by the ethereal guidance and love that transcends the boundaries of time and space.