Christabel Questions and Answers
Q. 1. Write a short critical estimate of Christabel.
Ans. Christabel is a magnificent poem by Coleridge. It is subtly supernatural in effect, psychological in its portrayal of the inner mind of man, dramatic in tone and in keeping up the suspense, lyrical in its melliflous music, medieval in its delineation of the hoary past, superbly romantic in its free play of imagination, a beautiful narrative in its art of story-telling, allegorical in its ever-recurring struggle between evil and good.
But the most important feature of the poem is its supernaturalism. By the most sober methods, the poem suggests the terror of a ‘vague menace’. The poet has procured from his readers that willing suspension of disbelief that constitutes the poetic faith’. The poem has nothing sensational or crude about it or it has nothing that strains our belief. The poet has here recourse to the trick of suggestive indefiniteness. The precise character of Geraldine, how far she was evil incarnate, the nature of her spell cast on Christabel, the reason for its failure-such matters are left as vague and indefinite as the flickering shadows cast by the fire-place in the hall. The supernatural here works on the mind and not simply on the externals. Geraldine’s power is seen working on the mind of Christabel. Christabel gets horror-stricken at the beauty of Geraldine and says instinctively: “Mary, mother, save me now!” When she is locked in the arms of the witch she sleeps uneasily with open eyes and has horrible dreams. The natural too has merged into the supernatural. Nature here has an eerieness about it. The poem is steeped in medievalism. The poet takes us back to the bygone medieval days which haunt our mind with witchery, magic, superstitions.
Christabel is an allegory. The poem is not simply a ‘fantasia’. It has a human interest. The poem narrates the birth and development of the process whereby goodness and innocence undergo the experience of evil’. Goodness and innocence are here represented by Christabel and evil is represented by Geraldine. Evil here is always on the lookout for occasions to pounce upon the innocent.
The poem, apart from all its other interests, is a fine specimen of the art of story-telling. The poet has used here the old ballad devices of using interrogations to intensify interest and give dramatic vividness to the narration, repetition to linger a little on interesting detail and gaps in
story-telling to stimulate the imagination of the readers, direct narration in conversation to give force to the narrative.
The poem bears the stamp of Coleridge’s skill in verbal music. Stopford. A. Brooke says; ‘I defy the whole body of critics to analyse the music of the first part of Christabel. It belongs to the imagination as much as the vision of the poem itself’.
Q.2. Illustrate from Christabel how Coleridge combines the natural with the supernatural to secure “that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith”.
Write a note on the supernatural element in Christabel.
Ans. The major poems of Coleridge, The Ancient Mariner and Christabel deal with supernatural phenomena. But Christabel is a more successful poem than The Ancient Mariner in the art of supernaturalism, In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner the supernatural manifestations are somewhat crude and gross. The emphasis has been laid on the physical effects. The episodes like the appearance of the spectreship with its crew, Death and Life-in-Death and the leaving of the corpses by the troop of the angelic spirits, the rising of the dead animated by the angels, Death and Life-in-Death playing at dice strain belief. The moral tone always pervading the poem almost mars the supernatural effect. But in Christabel the treatment of the supernatural is given a fresh lease of life. Coleridge strictly eschewed crudeness from the poem. By a superior skill he has diffused ‘the terror of vague menace’ through the whole atmosphere, etherealised and refined, and by his magic art he has naturalized the supernatural and supernaturalised the natural. The supernatural is given a human touch, a semblance of truth to the total exclusion of gruesome details, blood-curdling and spine-chilling incidents. The uncanny feeling of other-worldliness is gradually evoked, the supernatural is gradually distilled in the air of the poem.
Coleridge opens the scene of his story at midnight, the mysterious hour, the canonical hour for ghosts, witches, goblins, etc. In this hour the owls hoot, the cock is awaked and untimely crows, the mastiff bitch growls. It is in this hour that the spirit of the dead wife of the Baron visits the castle to guard her daughter, Christabel, from harm as evil sprits are out in this hour doing mischief. The poet describes:
‘Tis the middle of night by the castle clock, And the owls have awakened the crowing cock; Tu-whit!-Tu-whoo! And hark, again! the crowing cock, How drowsily it crew.
…. ….a toothless mastiff bitch; ….
Maketh answer to the clock,
…. Ever and aye, by shine and shower, Sixteen short howls, not over loud; Some say, she sees my lady’s shroud.
Coleridge takes us back to the medieval days associated with magic, romance, witchery, superstitions, etc. The distance lends enchantment. The poem breathes a medieval atmosphere with the descriptions of a moated castle with a massive gate ironed within and without, with its tower clock, its court and hall, its rush-spread bed-chamber, etc.
Nature too here has merged into the supernatural. Nature here has an eerie appeal. The night is calm and chilly. The sky is over-cast with thin gray clouds which cover it but do not hide it. The moon behind the clouds is full but not bright. She rather looks dull and small. The trees in the forest are leafless. There is no wind even to displace the curl of hair on Christabel’s cheeks, to move even the only last red leaf that hangs lightly on the topmost branch of the tree pointing towards the sky:
“Is the night chilly and dark? The night is chilly, but not dark. The thin grey cloud is spread on high, It covers but not hides the sky. The moon is behind, and at the full; And yet she looks both small and dull. The night is chill, the cold is grey:
The night is chill; the forest bare; Is it the wind that moaneth bleak?
There is not wind enough in the air To move away the ringlet curl From the lovely lady’s cheekThere is not wind enough to twirl The one red leaf, the last of its clan, That dances as often as dance it can, Hanging so light, and hanging so high, On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.” The descriptions, all taken together, make nature so refined, so vague that the scene takes a weird and mysterious look.
In the midst of such a scene already tense with an overpowering touch of mystery, Geraldine, a visitant from the other world appears making a suppressed moań. The lady is exceedingly beautiful. Her white neck, blue-veined unsandal’d feet, her robe of silken white, the dazzling jewels in the hair make the impression that she is not of this earth. She hails from the other world. Christabel is seized with a superstitious fear. Thus supernaturalism is distilled through.
The atmosphere of mystery and enchantment is gradually built up. Mystery is hinted at, just insinuated but not described in definite terms. Everything suggesting mystery is left vague and left to the imagination of the readers. “The precise character of Geraldine; how far she was evil; the nature of her spell, the reason for its failure-such matters are left as vague and indefinite as the flickering shadows cast by the great fire-place in the hall”. The poet does not make it clear what Christabel said or felt when she looked at Geraldine’s naked breast and part of her body. The sudden ‘exclamation’ is suggestive of something ominous: “Behold! her bosom and half her sideA sight to dream of, not to tell!
O shield her! shield sweet Christabel!”
The poet further keeps us in the dark about what the mark of shame on her breast is:
Thou knowest tonight, and wilt know tomorrow, This mark of my shame, this seal of my sorrow; Geraldine’s evil power is seen working on the mind of Christabel. The demon-woman takes Christabel in a close fleshly embrace. Christabel dreams an awful dream but what she dreams is not stated. But the effect of the dream is seen in the expression of her face. The poet describes:
With open eyes (ah woe is me!) Asleep, and dreaming fearfully, Fearfully dreaming, yet I wis, Dreaming that alone, which isO sorrow and shame! Can this be she, The lady, who knelt at the old oak tree?” The world of nature which is made super-sensitive sharply reacts to the presence of Geraldine, the visitant from the other world. Christabel and Geraldine cross the court. Outside her kennel, the old mastiff lay fast asleep in the cold moonlight. When the ladies pass by her, the mastiff did not wake up but did produce an angry moan: The mastiff old did not awake,
Yet she an angry moan did make!
And what can ail the mastiff bitch?
They passed through the hall which echoed the sounds of their footsteps. The pieces of woods that had been burning now lie flat and the fire is dying. The burnt pieces of wood are covered with white ashes. But when Geraldine passes by it, it gives out a blaze of light and a short, momentary flame:
The brands were flat, the brands were dying, Amid their own white ashes lying: But when the lady passed, there came A tongue of light, a fit of flame;
Q. 3. Write a critical note on Coleridge’s treatment of nature in Christabel.
Ans. Nature is part and parcel of the supernatural machinery employed in Christabel to suggest ‘the terror of a vague menace’. By the soberest means and with profound psychological insight the supernatural is woven into the natural. Nature here appears to be instinct with vague suggestions of the weird and the mysterious and is delineated as the fitting background for the supernatural happenings in the poem.
‘Is the night chilly and dark’?-the poet himself answers the question. The night is chilly, but not dark’. The interrogation sharpens the edge of curiosity and prepares the reader’s mind for acquaintance with something unusual and uncanny. Nature is thus described:
The night is chilly, but not dark. The thin gray cloud is spread on high, It covers but not hides the sky. The moon is behind, and at the full; And yet she looks both small and dull. The night is chill, the cloud is gray: ‘Tis a month before the month of May,
And the Spring comes slowly up this way. The line ‘The thin gray cloud is spread on high’ contributes to the creation of the atmosphere of mystery for the thin gray cloud has thrown the sky above and the earth below in chiaroscuro, i.e., half in light and half in shade-a state of things fraught with the immense possibility of the weird and the mysterious. The description of the moon looking ‘small’ and ‘dull’ above has an obviously ominous hint. It seems that there might be some power in the air to blight all that is bright, good and beautiful. Spring is late in coming and is in the grip of decay and desolation of the devastating winter encroaching upon the joyous spring. This is one more weird suggestion.
In the wood where Christabel went for nocturnal prayer there is no indication of Spring. There were no green leaves or shoots on the oak tree; its branches remained as yet covered with green moss and richly green mistletoe:
And naught was green upon the oak
But moss and rarest mistletoe. The mention of the mistletoe and the oak fits in perfectly with the weird atmosphere of the poem, ‘they being redolent of old-world mystery and diablerie’.
The night is cold and the forest is shorn of its leaves and foliage. No man or animal can be expected in the forest at this cold midnight hour. There is motion in the wind not strong enough to move even the light coil of Christabel’s lock of hair or to turn the single solitary red leaf that hangs loosely on the topmost branch of the tree. This absence of the wind only increases the sense of mystery. Easily and smoothly does the poet give us an idea of the atmosphere of horror and mystery in which Christabel finds herself under the oak tree at the dead of night. The picture of lifelinessess and desolation in Nature is thus conveyed: The night is chill; the forest bare
Is it the wind that moaneth bleak?
There is not wind enough in the air To move away the ringlet curl From the lovely lady’s cheekThere is not wind enough to twirl The one red leaf, the last of its clan, That dances as often as dance it can, Hanging so light, and hanging so high, On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky. The external objects of nature too are given a vague consciousness. Coleridge opens the scene of his story at midnight. This hour of midnight is associated with the mysterious activity of the owls, the cock and the mastiff bitch.
‘Tis the middle of night by the castle clock, And the owls have awakened the crowing cock, Tu-whit!-Tu-whoo! And hark, again! the crowing cock, How drowsily it crew.
The combination of the hooting of the owls and the crowing of the cock is an ominous one. For the owls screech in the dead of night, but the cock crows at the peep of dawn. They have felt a mysterious touch from another world and thus we are introduced to the supernatural. The old mastiff bitch which is supposed by some to see the shrouded body of the late Lady Leoline, gives twelve short howls in response to the clock. This conduct on the part of the old bitch is peculiarly mysterious.
The ‘natural agent’s, part and parcel of the supernatural machinery employed in the poem, suggest a premonition of evil and contribute to the atmosphere of mystery and enchantment. In making for Christabel’s bed-chamber, when the two ladies pass by the kennel, the old mastiff bitch most mysterious gives out an angry howl in her sleep.
Outside her kennel, the mastiff old Lay fast asleep, in moonshine cold. The mastiff old did not awake,
Yet she an angry moan did make!
This is a fresh contribution, in the shape of a subtle suggestion, to the weird atmosphere of the poem. The presence of some malignant influence in the air seems to work mysteriously on the instinct of the sleeping bitch. Perhaps the bitch yells in sleep, being disturbed by the screech of the owlet. The screech of the owlet is an ominous suggestion.
The two ladies pass the hall, where out of decayed fire, a tongue of fire
suddenly leaps out: They passed the hall, that echoes still, Pass as lightly as you will! The brands were flat, the brands were dying, Amid their own white ashes lying; But when the lady passed, there came A tongue of light, a fit of flame; How could the decayed fire send forth a sudden blaze of light? It is a mystery of the mysteries. The flickering fire-light gives the first premonition of evil, to which Christabel is blind.
Q. 4. Describe how Coleridge conveys the sense of premonition in Christabel.
Ans. By a Superb artistic skill and magic art Coleridge convey the sense of premonition in Christabel. The sense of premonition is not conveyed in definite terms. The success is here. Coleridge has resorted to vague suggestiveness, indefiniteness. The whole of natural world is made supersensitive to the ominous presence of Geraldine, a visitant from the other world. Premonition is always hinted, insinuated but never described in detail.
The sense of premonition is conveyed in the very beginning of his tale. The clock in the castle strikes twelve at midnight. The owls hoot and screech waking up the cock untimely, which crows out. The cock feels a mysterious uneasiness in the midst of nocturnal silence and crows drowsily though it is not morning yet. It is at midnight that the mastiff bitch gives sixteen short and not very loud howls. They say that she utters howls because she sees the white sheet of cloth in which the dead body of the wife of the baron was covered. The suggestion here is that the ghost of the lady visits the castle during midnight in her white sheet. The description taken together vaguely suggests the danger to come in soon. The poet describes:
‘Tis the middle of night by castle clock,
And the owls have awakened the crowing cock;
And hark, again! the crowing cock,
How drowsily it crow.
The objects of nature are made so refined, etherealised and spiritualised that they suggest premonition of evil. The night is calm and chilly. The sky is overcast with thin gray clouds which cover it but do not hide it altogether. The moon behind the clouds is full but not bright. It rather looks ‘dull and small’. The trees in the forest are leafless. There is no wind to move even the only, the last, red leaf that hangs lightly on the topmost branch of the tree.
The poet in the decription of the physical beauty of suggested something ominous. By its brilliant dazzle, the figure is not merely beautiful but more than ‘beautiful’-it becomes ‘other worldly’. The ‘damsel’ is exceedingly beautiful. The dim light of the clouded moon that shone on the lustrous white robe made it look like a pale shadow of white colour. The lady’s neck was so white as to make her white silken robe appear pale beside it. The neck was long and majestic. Her unsandalled feet were so white that the blue veins beneath her thin skin were clearly visible in the moonlight. The gems that she wore in her hair shone brightly. It was an awful sight to see such a lady of dazzling beauty in the lovely wood at that midnight hour-and that, all of a sudden. So repelling is her unnatural beauty that she is not a figure of this earth but a visitant from the other world. The poet gives a realistic description of the lady:
There she sees a damsel bright, Drest in a silken robe of white, That shadowy in the moonlight shone: The neck that made that white robe wan, Her stately neck, and arms were bare; Her blue-veined feet unsandall’d were, And wildly glittered here and there The gems entangled in her hair. I guess, ’twas frightful there to see A lady so rightly clad as sheBeautiful exceedingly! Christabel is alarmed at the sight of a lady of such unearthly asks her who she is. In a sweet but feeble voice the lady
beauty and requests Christabel to have pity on her. She is too tired to speak. She further requests her:
“Stretch forth thy hand, and have no fear!”
This request “stretch forth thy hand” is fraught with the possibility of great mischief. The lady in reality is a witch who is out at midnight to do harm to Christabel. The moment she will catch hold of the hands she will communicate her evil to Christabel. So the lady insists, but Christabel falters at first.
drag Christabel hears her story and lifts her up. They proceed to the castle. Geraldine walks slowly and feebly on her legs but when she is to get through the door of the castle, she drops down as if unable to herself through sheer exhaustion. “The lady snak, be like through pain” Christabel lifts her body up and somehow drags across. Thus Christabel brings her fate on herself. Evil cannot itself seize the innocent unless the innocent lends a helping hand to evil.
The various natural agents, part and parcel of Coleridge’s supernatural machinery, suggest a premonition of evil. Free from danger and fear, Christabel and Geraldine cross the compound. But the mastiff behaves abnormally. She gives out a growl of anger: Outside her kennel, the mastiff old Lay fast asleep, in moonshine cold. The mastiff old did not awake, Yet she an angry moan did make! And what can all the mastiff bitch? The suggestion is that the presence of Geraldine, an evil spirit, works mysteriously on the instinct of the sleeping bitch. The reference to the ‘owlet’s scritch’ is also significant. The screech of the owlet is regarded as ominous.
Christabel and Geraldine pass the hall cautiously and stealthilyThe burning logs being burnt now lay flat. A few half-burnt, thin small ends of logs were lying on the ashes of their burnt portions. But Geraldine passes by the dying flame the dying brands wake up to sudden blaze of fire as if the fire too was sensitive to the ominous presence of the demon-woman. The poet describes thus; They passed the hall, that echoes still, Pass as lightly as you will! The brands were flat, the brands were dying, Amid their own white ashes lying; But when the lady passed, there came A tongue of light, a fit of flame.
Q. 5. Write a critical note on the element of medievalism in Christabel I.
Ans. In a poem like Christabel where the poet’s sole concern is to create an atmosphere of mystery and enchantment, the poet cannot remain satisfied with the living present. It is distance which lures the poet. So Coleridge has harked back to the middle ages which conjure up to our fancy the visions of battlemented castle, knights and ladies, feastings in the hall, fights and tournaments, magic, witch-craft, superstition, goblins, vampires, etc. Coleridge has broken into an old road, along which the poets of medieval times and the Renaissance travelled into the mystery and terror, touching that beauty to which a demonic element clings.
Christabel had dreamt of her absent betrothed knight the previous night and had come into the forest adjacent to the castle to pray for his welfare. She knelt and prayed by an oak tree. It was an article of superstitious belief that the bad dream dreamt by the beloved about the lover would come true. The presaged catastrophe could be averted by the lady praying at midnight under an old tree in the wood.
Christabel was startled to hear a moaning sound which seemed to come from the other side of the oak tree. Seeing there a lady of dazzling beauty she prayed to Virgin Mary, “Mary Mother, save me now!” The strong religious faith of the Catholic Middle Ages in the invocations to Mary and Jesus is introduced here. The invocation was widely prevalent in the Middle Ages as a source of protection from the malign influence of the evil spirit.
The grosser side of medieval chivalry is faithfully represented in the story of her ‘forlorn’ condition told by Geraldine. The five armed men caught hold of her. They choked her mouth so that she could not cry. They bound her on a white saddle-horse that ran as fast as wind. She was in a trance. She had no idea about who these ruffians were. She did not even remember how long she had been lying there under the oak. The only thing that she remembered was that one of the five menthe tallest of them-took her down from the back of the horse-and he swore that they would soon come back. –
Hearing the story of Geraldine Christabel stretched forth her hand. Geraldine got up. She thanked her stars for she got a friend like Christabel in her dire distress. This has an explicit reference to the medieval belief that the star which was in the ascendant at the time of the birth of a
person presided all through his or her life and exercised a determining influence upon his or her career all through. Fac
Christabel requested Geraldine to take her as her bed-mate. The extremely decorous request is noticeable. The bed is hers. But she speaks as if the bed were Geraldine’s and she as a guest wanted a corner there. Such politeness reminds one of the Middle Ages and its characteristic etiquette. Christabel requests: The tea Cons
“And I beseech your courtesy,
This night, to share your couch with me”. Coleridge’s knowledge of the medieval castle is very accurate. Christabel and Geraldine were to enter the castle stealthily. They crossed the ditch and Christabel took out a key to unlock a little door in the middle of the castlegate. The doors of the main gate were protected with iron plates and nails on both sides. The gate was so wide that an army in battle array had often passed through it. All these are reminiscent of the Middle Ages. While crossing the gate, Geraldine dropped down through prostrating exhaustion. The poet here makes a very subtle use of a common medieval superstition “that evil sprits may not enter a house without help from mortal”. Chr Sr
Christabel led Geraldine to her own chamber. Geraldine stepped on the rushes on the floor of the room. Rushes were a kind of marshy plant which in the Middle Ages used to be spread on the floor in place of carpets, which were not yet introduced into Europe. Not a single ray of the moon entered into the room of Christabel; for the moon was clouded and the window glasses in medieval rooms were thick and coloured. Many a curious workmanship could be seen in the room with the light of the lamp which hung within, fastened doubly with a silver chain to the feet of an angel,. This was a characteristic medieval artistic device for hanging a lamp.
Christabel trimmed the lamp and it brightened up. She left it swinging to and fro. But as she did so, Geraldine collapsed on the floor. Christabel offered Geraldine highly refreshing and invigorating wine. Christabel’s mother had the knowledge of the mysterious powers of wild flowers. These wild flowers remind one of the magic herbs with which wizards and witches were believed in the Middle Ages of superstition to prepare their charms.
Geraldine asked her if her mother would take pity on her. Christabel told her that her mother had died just when she was born. But she had learnt from the grey-haired friar that while dying her mother had declared that she would hear the castle bell strike twelve on the day of her wedding. The friar was the most familiar figure in the medieval times; he would hear the confessions of dying persons and give them religious consolation. A friar in a baronial family was kept in charge of the chapel of the castle.
Geraldine held Christabel in close embrace and at once the full strength of her spell communicated itself to Christabel and she said that Christabel would retain knowledge of the shameful character of her guest, as revealed to her by the mark on her breast, but she would not be able to report anything to others. It is to be noted in this connection that in the Middle Ages, the witches, as devilish set of creatures, were often branded in this way by men.
Q. 6. Write a note on the problem of evil in Christabel.
Explain the Allegory in Christabel. Does the poet propose a moral?
Ans. Christabel is a gossamer-like, dreamy story. Coleridge himself said that ‘it pretended to be nothing more than a common fairy tale’. It is a ‘fantasia of elusive charm and nocturnal mystery’. But there might be some hint of allegory in the poem though the hint is never thoroughly or consistently worked out.
Allegorically interpreted, the poem is said to represent the everrecurring struggle between good and evil as typified by Christabel and Geraldine. But evil itself is not a potent force. To exercise its power over good it requires to enlist the support and sympathy of the innocence. So evil stalks under the guise of wronged and distressed innocence to seek the help of the innocent. Geraldine, the symbol of evil incarnate, poses herself as a wronged woman and concocts a story that five armed men caught hold of her. They gagged her mouth so that she could not cry. They bound her on a white saddle horse that ran as fast as wind. She could remember nothing. The only thing she remembers is that the tallest of the crew took her down from the back of the horse and he swore that they would soon come back. Christabel, convinced of the lady’s bonafide, does “stretch forth” her hand. Thus the witch finds it easy to communicate her evil to her innocent victim.
Furthermore, the evil cannot enter a house without the help from . mortal. The evil can overcome the good and the virtuous only when the latter lends a helping hand to it. While crossing the gate, Geraldine dropped down feigning exhaustion. Christabel with all her might and main lifted up the body of Geraldine and carried her over the gate, Geraldine rose on her feet and walked without help as if all her pain were gone. And Christabel led her to her own bed-chamber. The unsuspecting innocence typified by Christabel thus sheltered the disguised evil represented by Geraldine. Thus evil is assisted by good in ruining the good. excuses
The evil one cannot pray to God. It always puts forth lame not to pray when asked to do so. Free from danger as well as fear, Christabel and Geraldine crossed the boundary and felt happy. Christabel suggested that they pray to Virgin Mary
“Praise we the Virgin all divine.
Who hath rescued thee from thy distress!” But Geraldine, an embodiment of the forces of evil, cannot pray to Virgin Mary. She said she was too tired to speak:
‘I cannot speak for weariness”.
In the ever-recurring struggle between good and evil, the good may be totallyt subdued and the evil becomes triumphant. But this is not all and the only truth. The defeat of the good and virtuous is temporary. The good, in the moment of crisis, receive the help of the angel. Thus in the crisis of Christabel, the spirit of her mother intervences, comes to her help. Christabel’s soul instinctively feels the necessity of protection from something evil. She wishes:
“O mother dear! that thou went here!”
The spirit-mother appears and is only visible to Geraldine. Geraldine cries out in a voice of hate and defiance:
“Off, wandering mother! Peak and pine!
I have power to bid thee flee”.
The evil in full control of the good affects it in some way or other. The innocent quite unaware of the evil designs falls into the trap laid by the evil and is affected. Geraldine with a sudden dash laid herself on the bed by the side of Christabel and held her in close embrace and at once the full strength of her spell communicated itself to tabel through
the mutual fleshly contact. The strange thing of the spell was that Christabel under its influence lost all power to disclose the real character of the demon-woman though she had now the full knowledge of it.
The innocent who in circumstances of joy and sorrow pray to the saints are sure to receive protection from them. Christabel recovering from her painful trance fell into a happy, natural dream. Whatever she might have dreamt, she was sure of ultimate victory over the forces of evil because she knew that the saints always come to the aid of those who pray to them in their weal and woe.
Q. 7. Are there any indications is Christabel, Part 1, that show that Geraldine is at the mercy of some malign influence, not herself’?
Ans. Admittedly, Geraldine is an evil spirit. But yet there are some indications in the poem, which make us think that Geraldine is at the mercy of some malign influence, not herself.
Christabel is engaged in prayer for the weal of her lover that’s far away and hears behind the old oak, at the foot of which she is kneeling, a low moan. Christabel stealing to the other side of the tree, beholds a lovely lady. When she inquires of her, the lady earnestly entreats: ‘Have pity on my sore distress,/I scarce can speak for weariness: ‘ Perhaps this is no feigning of Geraldine. Her request to Christabel appears to be honest and speaks of her helplessness.
Christabel takes compassion on Geraldine and brings her to her own bed-chamber and the lady ‘in wretched plight, / sank down upon the floor below’. Her miserable condition appears to be genuine.
Geraldine asks if Christabel’s mother will take pity on her. In answer to the query, Christabel says that her mother died after giving birth to her and she wishes that her mother were by her side right at this moment: ‘O mother dear! that thou wert here!’ Geraldine too wishes: ‘I would,………….she were!’ Earnest Hartley Coleridge says that Geraldine’s wish that Christabel’s mother were near has no covert irony in it, it is quite genuine.
Even after the malignant wish for the mother to be off “Off, wandering mother/ Peak and pine” Geraldine seems to have benevolent instincts, telling Christabel:
“All they, who live in the upper sky, Do love you, holy Christabel!
and for the sake of good help Christabel has rendered her, she will still pray, try to ‘requite’ Christabel well; she must even pray: ‘for I / Must ere yet in bed I lie’. …………
And you love them”,
That Geraldine is ‘at the mercy of some malign influence not herself is further established in the act of revealing her bosom. The act is done with extreme reluctance:
Beneath the lamp the lady bowed, And slowly rolled her eyes around; Then drawing in her breath aloud, Like one that shuddered, she unbound The cincture from beneath her breast: Next, Geraldine prepares herself to lie beside Christabel. She looks disturbed and is seen making a great effort to remove some weight from her mind:
Yet Geraldine nor speaks nor stirs; Ah! what a stricken look was hers! Deep from within she seems half-way To lift some weight with sick assay, And eyes the maid and seeks delay; Then suddenly as one defied Collects herself in scorn and pride, And lay down by the Maiden’s side!-‘
Q. 8. Explain the significance of the title of the poem, Christabel.
Ans. In his letter dated 18th October, 1815 Byron wrote to Coleridge: ‘Last spring I saw Walter Scott. He repeated to me a considerable portion of an unpublished poem of yours-the wildest and finest I ever heard in that kind of composition. The title he did not mention, but I think the heroine’s name was Geraldine’. Humphry House writes: ‘The enigmatic Geraldine entirely swamps Part I’. Prima facie it appears that Geraldine is the most domineering personality in the poem. With her appearance the plot thickens. She concocts a story of her abduction by the ruffians and by her glib tongue she makes Christabel believe of what she says. She takes the full opportunity of Christabel’s innocence and takes shelter in the castle and gradually gains her ascendancy over Christabel. She requests Christabel to unrobe herself
and Christabel does as requested by Geraldine. Later Geraldine undresses herself, lies down by Christabel’s side and takes her into her arms and casts her spell. Geraldine’s evil power is seen working on the mind of Christabel. Christabel is completely under the control of the evil spirit. She even loses the power of least resistance. She dreams an awful dream and seems to writhe in some unutterable pain. After recovering from her painful trance, she falls into a happy and natural dream. Thus from the beginning to the end of the poem Geraldine occupies much of the poem.
But in spite of the dominance of Geraldine in the poem, the title Christabel is quite apt and justified. Christabel is not simply a gossamerlike supernatural story, a fantasia. Coleridge’s wish is to confer upon. the supernatural a human interest and a semblance of truth. It represents the ‘ever-recurring struggle between good and evil as typified by Christabel and Geraldine. It is through the portrayal of Christabel that the poet highlights the human quality of the poem. From start to end we never lose sight of Christabel. We continually sympathize with Christabel. On the contrary, Geraldine appears to us as some kind of evil surrogate. She is all dignity, grandeur and majesty. She has merely the charm of superficial excellence. We are somewhat awed at her appearance, at her dealing with Christabel. Christabel, on the other hand, is all innocence, mildness and grace. Pitted against her, Geraldine pales into insignificance. Geraldine appears to be dimmed and shadowy. Geraldine might surpass Christabel in physical beauty. But in ever brilliance and effulgence of moral virtues of Christabel, Geraldine is a nothingness, a non-entity.
Geraldine is exceedingly beautiful. But Christabel is not only lovely, she is beloved. Her dealing with Geraldine makes us understand why she is beloved. She receives Geraldine with a pure soul of tenderness. She offers refuge and promises her father’s service; she assists Geraldine’s weary weight over the threshold. She is devout-in her prayers for her absent lover, in her gratitude to the Virgin Mary for Geraldine’s deliverance and in her instinctive appeal to heaven when Geraldine, warring with the unseen ghost of Christabel’s mother, seems unwell.
Thus in consideration of the above, the title of the poem is quite appropriate. Had the poem been titled ‘Geraldine’, the tone of the poem would sound discordant, the thematic significance would ever remain nebulous.
Q. 9. Comment upon the use of various images in Christabel.
eer The image Ans. The images used in the poem are of ‘piercing accuracy They have their particular functions. They add to the creation of atmosphere and are closely linked to the theme of the poem. here have reached and gained the complex dimension of symbolism. Let us first consider the following passage which has symbol:
The thin grey cloud is spread on high, It covers but not hides the sky. The moon is behind, and at the full; And yet she looks both small and dull. Everything hangs in a state of precarious uncertainty, of incipient disease. The cloud is such as if it threatens the sky, but the sky is still visible. The moon is full yet it remains without its usual glow and radiance. The poet ‘thus reinforces the idea of potentialities in Nature which are never finally to be realized in the story’. This is further shown: ‘Tis is a month before the month of May,
And the Spring comes slowly up this way.
The light of the moon is cold and where it falls, it illumines a further symbol of decay, the toothless mastiff. In Christabel’s room ‘not a moonbeam enters’ and here in the room she-ironically enough-feels safe. In contrast to the moon in Christabel the moon in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner has holy associations and works as a healthy potential. Behind he moon in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner there is the association of the Queen of Heaven, ‘the holy Mother’ as ‘Coleridge calls her. In Christabel the diseased condition of the moon is linked with the inability of Christabel’s dead mother, her guardian spirit, to operate in her defence.
The diseased moon further prepares us for Christabel’s transition from a condition of organic innocence to one of complete division. What is the nature of this division and how is its appearance developed in the poem? The development, it should be noticed, takes place through instances of what happens to Christabel rather than what she does. Evil works upon her and by the time she feels possessed by it and, ‘with forced unconscious sympathy’ perhaps even becoming evil herself, she has lost her own free will’.
The sky too has a symbolic function. The cloud has covered it but yet it is still shown through. It symbolically offers Christabel the feeling of freedom and of free will. Geraldine says: ‘All they, who live in the upper sky’ Do love you, holy Christabel! Christabel herself knows
…..in joys and woes,
That saints will aid if men will call:
For the blue sky bends over all! The presence of the sky points further to Christabel’s growing feelings of helplessness and isolation.
In connection with the symbolic functions of the sky and the moon in the poem, Humphry House observes that by adding the moon’s dullness Coleridge has increased the mysteriousness and vagueness of the midnight light. The cloud and the moon are behaving oddly and ominously, just out of the way of ordinary behaviour, as if proportion is thrown out and normal vision perplexed.
Christabel finds herself all alone. Her lover is absent, her mother dead, her father sick. “The one red leaf, the last of its clan, / That dances as often as dance it can, / Hanging so light, and hanging so high, / On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky” is a fine image and is suggestive of Christabel’s isolation.
Christabel is further replete with feminine images as well as the images of religious grace. The mastiff which gives out frequent howls is a ‘bitch’. Christabel is set between Geraldine and the spirit of her own mother as forces of evil and grace respectively. The invocations of ‘Mary Mother’ and ‘Jesu Mother’ are heard on and often. Some sort of sexual desecration, some expressly physical horror, is revealed by Geraldine’s undressing. She insinuates herself into Christabel’s religious, motherwatched, world; she is mortally afraid of the mother-spirit and addresses her invisible presence with words of threat:
‘Off, wandering mother! Peak and pine!”
The final image of the sleeping mother embracing her child is noteworthy. When Geraldine lies with Christabel she is imaged as a mother with a child:
Then suddenly as one defied Collects herself in scorn and pride,
And lay down by the maiden’s side!And in her arms the maid she took, Ah, wel-a-day!
Q. 10. What idea of Christabel’s character do you form from your reading of the poem, Christabel?
Ans. Christabel is carefully drawn as a woman with the ‘pure soul of tenderness’. She is in reality the gentle soul-delighting Una. She possesses all those innate virtues that work internally and these are virtues which make her lovable. She is all innocence, all mildness and all grace. She is gentle, mild, sweet and lovely.
Christabel is a lovely lady’ in the sense that she is capable of exciting a moral attachment. But she is not only lovely, she is beloved by her betrothed knight and by her father and even by Geraldine who is obliged to admit: ‘All they, who live in the upper sky, / Do love you, holy Christabel!’ Her behaviour makes us understand why she is beloved by all. She is sympathetic to Geraldine and takes genuine pity on her when she hears of Geraldine’s plight. Her reception of hers in hospitable and cordial. She immediately offer refuge to her and promises her father’s help: ‘O well, bright dame! may you command / The service of Sir Leoiine;’ Then as they were about to enter the gate, Geraldine sinks on the ground and Christabel immediately assists her ‘weary weight’ over the threshold. Later when the strange lady sinks on the floor, Christabel again comes to her help and revives her with a precious medicinal cordial drink.
Christabel in devout and there is a holy charisma about her. She is consequence of ill-boding dreams, goes at midnight in April to the forest and in fearless innocence she is engaged in prayer for the weal of her that far away’. She is also devout in her gratitude to Virgin Mary for Geraldine’s deliverance: ‘Praise we the Virgin all divine / Who hath rescued thee from thy distress!’ and in her instinctive appeal to heaven when Geraldine, warring with the unseen ghost of Christabel’s mother, seems disturbed and unwell. Indeed she is perfectly human and at the same time all divine. Even in sleep she is said to be Like, a youthful hermitess,
Beauteous in a wilderness,
Who, praying always, prays in sleep.
Christabel’s good qualities are seen in her conduct to and concern for the strange lady and these are further demonstrated in her anxiety about her father’s difficulty in sleeping. When they passing are the ironed she requests Geraldine:
gate, ‘All our household are at rest,
The hall as silent as the cell; Sir Leoline is weak in health And may not well awakened be,
But we will move as if in stealth,
When the ladies pass the hall, Christabel again implores Geraldine: ‘O softly tread,…………./ My father seldom sleepeth well’.
Christabel is docile and courteous. On way to the castle, a furlong from the forest, Christabel requests Geraldine to take her as her bedmate. The bed is hers. But she speaks as if the bed were Geraldine’s and she as a guest wants just a corner there:
‘And I beseech your courtesy,
This night, to her share your couch with me’. Christabel lived in a pathetic and pathological isolation. With a mother dead, a father weak and sick in health, and a lover far away, she is all alone. Yet she is self-schooled, self-taught and the good qualities of her character spring from an unself-consciousness.
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