Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The poem entitled Christabel consists of two parts. The first part of this poem was composed in 1797, and it is made up of 337 lines. The poem was to be published according to the poet’s intention, in the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads, in 1800. Further, it was to be a long one divided into five parts. But after 1799, the poet suffered from a great “barrenness” with regard to poetic composition. The result was that the poem, as upon it as an unfinished poem, and so did his publishers. It was later published, together with Kubla Khan, by Murry in 1816, on the recommendation of George Gordon Byron, the poet. According to Paul Harvey, its first part was composed at Stowey in Somerset, in 1797, while the second part, at Keswick in Cumberland in 1800, after Coleridge’s return from Germany.

Christabel Part 1 Analysis

‘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.

This first stanza of the poem, Christabel, projects on our minds the  image of a medieval English castle. The details of the castle are scattered all over the poem. On the basis of these details, we can describe it as woodland castle. The wood sands at a distance of about a furlong from the castle gate. The castle is surrounded by a moat presumably spanned by a small bridge. In the present poem, the poet has represented the medievalism of the English people, on a grand scale. Here we have poetic visions of medieval English civilization, English culture, and English superstitions, etc. So, describing the castle, the poet says that the castle clock was striking twelve – the midnight hour. It wakes up the owls which hoot, “tu-whit! Tu-whoot!” The says the owls’ hooting wakes the cock, and presently it crows very drowsily. Thus, the very  first line of the poem is full of action and creates suspense to make the readers aware that this is really going to be  a great poem.

Sir Leoline, the Baron rich,

Hath a toothless mastiff bitch;

From her kennel beneath the rock

She maketh answer to the clock,

Four for the quarters, and twelve for the hour;

Ever and aye, by shine and shower,

Sixteen short howls, not over loud;

Some say, she sees my lady’s shroud.

From lines six to thirteen, the poet informs us that the castle-owner, the rich baron, has a toothless mastiff bitch. She lies in her kennel beneath the rock. When the clock strikes a quarter after eleven PM she howls twelve times. Whether it is rainy or moonlit, she always makes sixteen howls from eleven to twelve, which are short and moderately loud. The poet further says that some people of the castle say that at the time she perceives Lady Leoline’s ghost that keeps wandering here and there in the castle. As we know that Coleridge is well-known for creating supernatural elements through his poem, and this very quality of the poet is best depicted when he talks about the howling of the she-bitch that gives an answer to the clock’s each strikes.

Is the night chilly and dark?

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.

As we move ahead with the poem, the suspense becomes deeper. Though as of now, the poem is presented to in terms of a suspense story, as we read on, it becomes clear these is something to be served to us in terms of something unique. In these lines the poet asks and answers himself when he says:  Is the night very cold and dark? The night is very cold, indeed, but not dark. The sky is covered with a layer of thin grey clouds. It is not hidden by the clouds. So although the moon is behind them, yet it is visible as the full moon. Yet it looks both small and dull. The night is very cold. The clouds are grey. The poet says it is April, and the spring  is gradually showing itself in this region.

The lovely lady, Christabel,

Whom her father loves so well,

What makes her in the wood so late,

A furlong from the castle gate?

She had dreams all yesternight

Of her own betrothèd knight;

And she in the midnight wood will pray

For the weal of her lover that’s far away.

Here we come in front of the lead character of this poem. Describing her, the poet says Christabel is a lovely young lady. Her father Sir Leoline loves her very well. But what brings her at midnight into the wood about a furlong from the castle-gate? The poet further says she had dreamt of her lover knight all the while she was asleep last night. So she has come into the wood at midnight in order to pray for the well-being of her lover who is far away in a distant land. Let me tell you here that the introduction of the main character of the poem, named Christabel is brought to us all of sudden, and in the following the poet says:

She stole along, she nothing spoke,

The sighs she heaved were soft and low,

And naught was green upon the oak

But moss and rarest misletoe:

She kneels beneath the huge oak tree,

And in silence prayeth she.

She walks stealthily and silently into the forest. She also breathes softly and lowly. On the oak tree, there is nothing green except the moss and the mistletoe, a parasitic plant which grows rarely on the oak. The poet further says having arrived beneath the huge oak tree, she kneels and prays silently. In the above, the poet has made us familiar with Christabel, but there is yet to be revealed more.

The lady sprang up suddenly,

The lovely lady Christabel!

It moaned as near, as near can be,

But what it is she cannot tell.—

On the other side it seems to be,

Of the huge, broad-breasted, old oak tree.

These lines are also replete with surprising elements, and in these lines also we come across surprise and suspense. As the poet himself says that suddenly the lovely lady Christabel springs up, hearing a low sound of pain very close to her. But, the poet says, she does not understand what it is. It came to her from the other side of the huge, broad, old oak tree.

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 cheek—

Through the above lines, the poet describing about the surrounding says that the night is cold. The forests threes are leafless. She (Christabel) asks herself whether it is the cold and cheerless wind which made the moan. But to her surprise, the poet tells, there is not wind enough to wave the curl of her hair lying on her lovely cheek.

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