Study Guide

Christabel Stanzas 13-18

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Stanzas 13-18

Part I, Stanzas 13-18

She rose: and forth with steps they passed
That strove to be, and were not, fast.
Her gracious stars the lady blest,
And thus spake on sweet Christabel:
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,
And I beseech your courtesy,
This night, to share your couch with me.

They crossed the moat, and Christabel
Took the key that fitted well;
A little door she opened straight,
All in the middle of the gate;
The gate that was ironed within and without,
Where an army in battle array had marched out.
The lady sank, belike through pain,
And Christabel with might and main
Lifted her up, a weary weight,
Over the threshold of the gate:
Then the lady rose again,
And moved, as she were not in pain.

So free from danger, free from fear,
They crossed the court: right glad they were.
And Christabel devoutly cried
To the lady by her side,
Praise we the Virgin all divine
Who hath rescued thee from thy distress!
Alas, alas! said Geraldine,
I cannot speak for weariness.
So free from danger, free from fear,
They crossed the court: right glad they were.

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 ail the mastiff b****?
Never till now she uttered yell
Beneath the eye of Christabel.
Perhaps it is the owlet's scritch:
For what can ail the mastiff b****?

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;
And Christabel saw the lady's eye,
And nothing else saw she thereby,
Save the boss of the shield of Sir Leoline tall,
Which hung in a murky old niche in the wall.
O softly tread, said Christabel,
My father seldom sleepeth well.

Sweet Christabel her feet doth bare,
And jealous of the listening air
They steal their way from stair to stair,
Now in glimmer, and now in gloom,
And now they pass the Baron's room,
As still as death, with stifled breath!
And now have reached her chamber door;
And now doth Geraldine press down
The rushes of the chamber floor.

  • Geraldine is on her feet now, and though Christabel would like to hurry, Geraldine is a bit of a literal drag.
  • Christabel then tells Geraldine basically everything that a creature of the night intent on taking advantage of a young lady wants to hear: everyone else in the castle is asleep. Even if she wanted to wake up her dad, he's sick and wouldn't really appreciate being woken up anyway.
  • Christabel insists that they tip-toe about the castle.
  • Girls sharing a bed isn't super-unusual, especially in Victorian times, but line 122 could be more evidence of the poem suggesting that Christabel is open to being seduced by another woman, especially since she is insisting that they share a bed without anyone else in the castle knowing about it.
  • Christabel lives in a classic castle complete with a moat.
  • Traditionally, castles have regular-sized doors set in bigger doors that swung open large enough to let several men on horseback out at one time. When one or a few people wanted to enter the castle on foot, they just opened up the little door to avoid the effort and fanfare of the big doors.
  • Just when the two ladies are about to cross the threshold of the castle, Geraldine sinks down to the ground in extreme pain.
  • There could be two different things going on here:
  • Iron is another material that was traditionally used to ward off vampires. In fact, there have been several archaeological finds involving skeletons impaled on iron stakes or with iron stakes driven through their mouths to prevent the deceased from coming back as vampires. Ew. We modern folk may scoff at sparkling vampires, but way back before Stephanie Meyer and Anne Rice, vampires were serious business. Coleridge makes it a point to tell us that the gate was laced with iron in line 126, so anyone who might be a vampire (*cough* Geraldine *cough*) would probably have a hard time getting through.
  • The second possibility is that the threshold represents a barrier for evil, and an evil creature of any sort cannot cross a threshold without an invitation. We already discussed that Christabel's outstretched hand in stanzas 10 and 11 made this invitation, but Geraldine may have needed a bit of a confirmation here with the iron-enhanced doorway to the castle.
  • Once on the other side of the gate, Geraldine feels much better and is able to walk along as if nothing happened.
  • This stanza has a sing-song quality about it. We can almost see Christabel skipping along swinging her arms and praising the Virgin Mary for the fortuitous rescue of Geraldine. Check out "Form and Meter" for more on how this poem is put together.
  • Geraldine, on the other hand, waves Christabel's Christian comments away and claims that she's too tired to even speak. A vampire or a witch wouldn't be particularly inclined to praise any Christian god or saint, and being tired is a good way to avoid an awkward moment.
  • Christabel still doesn't register anything strange about this woman. She just continues on in her obliviousness.
  • Coleridge is plainly toying with us in this stanza, like an overly dramatic children's show host asking whoever it could possibly be at the front door when we've already seen the chipper neighbor lady on her way over.
  • There's that old, toothless dog again—doing a whole lot of nothing, really, except giving us the creeps.
  • Christabel has never witnessed this dog being cruel or aggressive, but now as the two women pass by the kennel, the dog growls a warning.
  • The speaker implies that Christabel thinks that it could be that tu-whit, tu-whoo-ing owl again, but she's just not sure what could be bothering the dog. Obviously, Christabel isn't seeing the signs that trouble is right beside her.
  • Christabel and Geraldine are tip-toeing through the castle.
  • The logs that were on the fire have all been spent and sit in a pile of their own ashes.
  • This would be a cute, innocent Victorian scene of two ladies if it weren't for the sudden, rather spooky, flare-up of the fire when Geraldine passes by the ashes.
  • The only thing that Christabel sees is Geraldine's eyes. This suggests that Geraldine may be giving her the "evil eye" or at least hypnotizing her in some way. This is kind of comforting because we were starting to think that Christabel is a bit daft; instead, it seems that she's under some kind of spell. That's comforting as far as Christabel's IQ goes, but terrifying as far as the potential outcome of this story.
  • Christabel catches a glance of her father's shield. (The "boss" is the center, raised section of a shield. Most of them were just plain, rounded sections, but more important warriors, such as a knight like Sir Leoline, could have highly decorative bosses that helped identify them in battle.)
  • She remembers that her dad is not a good sleeper. Maybe memories of traumatic battles keep him tossing and turning at night.
  • Christabel doesn't want anyone else to know about the woman she is ferrying to her room at night. This is another place where some scholars point out the potential hints of lesbianism in the poem.
  • They pass by Christabel's father's room, but it is so still that he must be fast asleep.
  • Finally, they arrive at Christabel's room. It has rushes on the floor, which is a sweet-smelling grass thrown on the dirt floors of castles and Medieval homes for insulation and to dampen the sounds in the big, open rooms. It's dark, but they can see anyway because they've been moving through the dark castle and have adjusted to the low light. Christabel's room is decorated with carvings that an artist felt appropriate for a lady's room, including a lamp hanging from silver chains, attached to the feet of a carving of an angel—sweet digs.

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