Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Part 2: The poem, Christabel by S.T. Coleridge, has two parts. Earlier we talked about the stanzas from the first part, in this segment, we will be discussing about the stanzas from the second part, which was composed, at Keswick in Cumberland in 1800, after Coleridge’s return from Germany.


Christabel Part 2 Analysis

Each matin bell, the Baron saith,

Knells us back to a world of death.

These words Sir Leoline first said,

When he rose and found his lady dead:

These words Sir Leoline will say

Many a morn to his dying day!

In the above first stanza of the second part, the poet brings into the scene the Baron, that is; Sir Leoline, who says that each morning bell reminds them that their life has been reduced by one day more and that they have traveled closer to death. The poet says that Sir Leoline first said these words on the morning when he woke up to find his wife dead. He will repeat these words almost every morning till his dying day.

And hence the custom and law began

That still at dawn the sacristan,

Who duly pulls the heavy bell,

Five and forty beads must tell

Between each stroke—a warning knell,

Which not a soul can choose but hear

From Bratha Head to Wyndermere.

From such belief, the poet says, began the custom and tradition that the sexton who properly rings the heavy church bell must always tell forty-five beads between any two strokes at dawn. Thus the bell for the Morning Prayer may be called a warning bell which everyone from Breatha Head to Wyndermere shall have to hear.

Saith Bracy the bard, So let it knell!

And let the drowsy sacristan

Still count as slowly as he can!

There is no lack of such, I ween,

As well fill up the space between.

In Langdale Pike and Witch’s Lair,

And Dungeon-ghyll so foully rent,

With ropes of rock and bells of air

Three sinful sextons’ ghosts are pent,

Who all give back, one after t’other,

The death-note to their living brother;

And oft too, by the knell offended,

Just as their one! two! three! is ended,

The devil mocks the doleful tale

With a merry peal from Borodale.

Bracey, Sir Leoline’s poet-singer, says that the Morning Prayer bell must be rung in that slow manner. The drowsy sexton should tell forty-beads between two strokes as slow as possible. The poet trusts that there is no dearth of such people as fill up, with sincere prayers, the space between two strokes of the matin bell. In (the mountain called) Langdale Pike, in the ravine called) Witch’s Lair, and in (another ravine called) Dungeon Ghill which is split disfigured there are shut up the ghosts of three sinful sextons. And they are furnished with ropes of rock and bells of air. When the sexton of the church, their living brother, rings the matin-bell at dawn, those three ghosts, one after the other, also sound their bells of the air, as if to echo, the matin church bell. Very often, being offended by the one, two, three, strokes of their ghostly bell, the devil, too, mocks at their mournful sounds by making a peal of merry sounds from Borodale.

The air is still! through mist and cloud

That merry peal comes ringing loud;

And Geraldine shakes off her dread,

And rises lightly from the bed;

He further says, Well, that is; (the matin bell has rung), the wind is motionless. That peal of the devil’s merry sounds comes from Borodale ringing loudly through mist and clouds. Geraldine casts off her frightening appearance and rises from her bed lightly.

Puts on her silken vestments white,

And tricks her hair in lovely plight,

And nothing doubting of her spell

Awakens the lady Christabel.

‘Sleep you, sweet lady Christabel?

I trust that you have rested well.’

Geralding then puts on her white silken dress, and combs her hair in a lovely pattern. Then being assured of the power of her beauty spell, she wakes up lady Christabel, with word: “Sweet lady Christabel, are you still asleep? I think you have rested well!”

And Christabel awoke and spied

The same who lay down by her side—

O rather say, the same whom she

Raised up beneath the old oak tree!

Nay, fairer yet! and yet more fair!

For she belike hath drunken deep

Of all the blessedness of sleep!

And while she spake, her looks, her air

Such gentle thankfulness declare,

That (so it seemed) her girded vests

Grew tight beneath her heaving breasts.

‘Sure I have sinn’d!’ said Christabel,

‘Now heaven be praised if all be well!’

And here we see Christabel waking up. As the beautiful lady wakes up she found the same lady that slept beside her all the night, or rather the same lady that she helped to rise beneath the old oak tree. What was striking, the lady seemed to Christabel more beautiful, much more beautiful, than she seemed last night. For, probably, she had imbibed the happy effect of deep sleep well. And while she spoke her undergarments fastened with a bell seemed to grow tighter under her heaving breasts.

And in low faltering tones, yet sweet,

Did she the lofty lady greet

With such perplexity of mind

As dreams too lively leave behind.

So, in the above extract, Christabel says to herself, “Surely I have committed a sin to think that she is wicked. I should be thankful to God, now that all is well.” Christabel then greeted the tall lady, in a low, faltering, but sweet, voice/. Yet her mind was still in state of such bewilderment as is left behind by too much vivid and impressive dreams.

So quickly she rose, and quickly arrayed

Her maiden limbs, and having prayed

That He, who on the cross did groan,

Might wash away her sins unknown,

She forthwith led fair Geraldine

To meet her sire, Sir Leoline.

Now Christabel got up quickly and put on her dress to cover her maiden body, in no time. Then she prayed to Jesus Christ, who died groaning on the cross, that he might wash away her sins committed unknowingly. Thereafter she immediately took fair Geraldine to her father, Sir Leoline.

The lovely maid and the lady tall

Are pacing both into the hall,

And pacing on through page and groom,

Enter the Baron’s presence-room.

In this part, the lovely maid Christabel and the tall lady Geraldine –both entered the hall. Then walking through boy-servants and servants in charge of horses, they entered the Baron’s presence-room.

The Baron rose, and while he prest

His gentle daughter to his breast,

With cheerful wonder in his eyes

The lady Geraldine espies,

And gave such welcome to the same,

As might beseem so bright a dame!

Here the Baron stood up to see them and took his gentle daughter into his arms. He also looked at Geraldine with cheerfulness and wonder. He also gave her such a hearty welcome as was suitable for such a bright lady.

But when he heard the lady’s tale,

And when she told her father’s name,

Why waxed Sir Leoline so pale,

Murmuring o’er the name again,

Lord Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine?

But when he heard Geraldine’s tale and was told her father’s name. Sir Leoline grew pale, and several times murmured to himself her father’s name – “Lord Roland de Vaux of Tryemaine.”

Alas! they had been friends in youth;

But whispering tongues can poison truth;

And constancy lives in realms above;

And life is thorny; and youth is vain;

And to be wroth with one we love

Doth work like madness in the brain.

Now Sir Leoline sadly remembered that he and Lord Roland had been friends in their youth. But whispering tongues of back-biters can poison true friendship. So, constancy in friendship can be found only in the Heaven above. Here on earth, life of friendship is full of thorns; and the period of youth is also full of vanity. And so to be angry with our friend whom we love works like madness in our minds.

And thus it chanced, as I divine,

With Roland and Sir Leoline.

Each spake words of high disdain

And insult to his heart’s best brother:

They parted—ne’er to meet again!

But never either found another

To free the hollow heart from paining—

They stood aloof, the scars remaining,

Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;

A dreary sea now flows between;—

But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,

Shall wholly do away, I ween,

The marks of that which once hath been.

In this extract, as the poet guesses, the same thing happened with Lord Roland and Sir Leoline. Each of them spoke words of high disdain to the other, his best friend, and thus insulted him. Then they parted from each other, never to meet again. Later neither of them saw the other to empty his vain heart of the painful complaints it was filled with. They kept themselves away from each other like two rocks that had been separated from each other by a rift. Each retained the mark of the spiritual injury the other had inflicted upon his soul. Now a dreary sea of great dislike flowed between them. Yet he thinks marks of old friendship still exits upon the soul of each of them. And neither heat nor frost or thunder of dislike can remove those marks of old friendship completely.

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Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
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