Study Guide

Christabel Stanzas 19-31

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Stanzas 19-31

Part I, Stanzas 19-31

The moon shines dim in the open air,
And not a moonbeam enters here.
But they without its light can see
The chamber carved so curiously,
Carved with figures strange and sweet,
All made out of the carver's brain,
For a lady's chamber meet:
The lamp with twofold silver chain
Is fastened to an angel's feet.

The silver lamp burns dead and dim;
But Christabel the lamp will trim.
She trimmed the lamp, and made it bright,
And left it swinging to and fro,
While Geraldine, in wretched plight,
Sank down upon the floor below.

O weary lady, Geraldine,
I pray you, drink this cordial wine!
It is a wine of virtuous powers;
My mother made it of wild flowers.

And will your mother pity me,
Who am a maiden most forlorn?
Christabel answered—Woe is me!
She died the hour that I was born.
I have heard the grey-haired friar tell
How on her death-bed she did say,
That she should hear the castle-bell
Strike twelve upon my wedding-day.
O mother dear! that thou wert here!
I would, said Geraldine, she were!

But soon with altered voice, said she—
"Off, wandering mother! Peak and pine!
I have power to bid thee flee."
Alas! what ails poor Geraldine?
Why stares she with unsettled eye?
Can she the bodiless dead espy?

And why with hollow voice cries she,
"Off, woman, off! this hour is mine—
Though thou her guardian spirit be,
Off, woman, off! 'tis given to me."

Then Christabel knelt by the lady's side,
And raised to heaven her eyes so blue—
Alas! said she, this ghastly ride—
Dear lady! it hath wildered you!
The lady wiped her moist cold brow,
And faintly said, "'tis over now!"

Again the wild-flower wine she drank:
Her fair large eyes 'gan glitter bright,
And from the floor whereon she sank,
The lofty lady stood upright:
She was most beautiful to see,
Like a lady of a far countrèe.

And thus the lofty lady spake—
"All they who live in the upper sky,
Do love you, holy Christabel!
And you love them, and for their sake
And for the good which me befel,
Even I in my degree will try,
Fair maiden, to requite you well.
But now unrobe yourself; for I
Must pray, ere yet in bed I lie."

Quoth Christabel, So let it be!
And as the lady bade, did she.
Her gentle limbs did she undress,
And lay down in her loveliness.

But through her brain of weal and woe
So many thoughts moved to and fro,
That vain it were her lids to close;
So half-way from the bed she rose,
And on her elbow did recline
To look at the lady Geraldine.

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:
Her silken robe, and inner vest,
Dropt to her feet, and full in view,
Behold! her bosom and half her side—
A sight to dream of, not to tell!
O shield her! shield sweet Christabel!

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!—
And in her arms the maid she took,
Ah wel-a-day!
And with low voice and doleful look
These words did say:
"In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell,
Which is lord of thy utterance, Christabel!
Thou knowest to-night, and wilt know to-morrow,
This mark of my shame, this seal of my sorrow;
But vainly thou warrest,
For this is alone in
Thy power to declare,
That in the dim forest
Thou heard'st a low moaning,
And found'st a bright lady, surpassingly fair;
And didst bring her home with thee in love and in charity,
To shield her and shelter her from the damp air."

  • Some history trivia for you, Shmoopers: before electricity, light came from oil lamps. As the lamp burned, the wick would darken and be used up, causing the flame to become low and dim. Trimming the wick involved actually cutting the burned end off and feeding a little more of the clean, unburned wick up out of the oil. The flame would then burn higher and brighter…as it does here in Christabel's room.
  • Once the lamp burns brighter, Geraldine catches a clear look at the angel carving. In the swinging lamplight, the angel looks more lifelike. Geraldine, being a creature of the night, finds this extremely unnerving and sinks down to the floor in fear.
  • Christabel mistakes Geraldine's fear of the holy statue for weariness. She offers Geraldine a wine infused with wild flowers meant to calm the nerves and sooth nightmares and other fears.
  • Christabel's mother made the wine herself.
  • Geraldine asks if Christabel's mother will be as kind and caring as Christabel has been. Knowing what we know of Geraldine so far, it seems more likely that she's assessing her victim's situation. Or, as they say in old detective movies, she's casing the joint.
  • Christabel reveals that her mother died giving birth to her.
  • The friar who came to give Christabel's mother her last rites was also the one who heard her mother's last words. Those last words were that she would be around in spirit until she hears the bells ringing on Christabel's wedding day.
  • For the record, bells are rung at a wedding to ward off evil spirits. Christabel's mother wished nothing but good things for her daughter, even though it was her daughter's birth that ended up killing her. Unfortunately, that wasn't terribly unusual at the time.
  • Christabel says that she wishes her mom were there with her now—sniff.
  • Geraldine also says that she wishes Christabel's mother were with her. Okay…it's frankly a bit of a surprise that Geraldine would wish anything pleasant for someone she's only deceived so far.
  • Now we're starting to see Geraldine's true colors. Her voice changes and she appears to be shooing away the ghost of Christabel's mother.
  • Geraldine claims that she has the power to make the ghost go away. She tells the ghost to "peak and pine," which means to become weak and wither away (205).
  • Here again the speaker is toying with the reader, giving us hints and trying to steer us away from the truth all at once. (Check out our "Speaker" section for more on this.) He (or she) wonders why, if Geraldine can see ghosts, she would tell such a ghost to go away. At the same time, we know perfectly well why Geraldine would be telling a good spirit to take a hike because we've been picking up the creepy vampire vibes that Coleridge has been laying down all along.
  • Christabel's mother said she'd be the girl's guardian spirit until the day she marries, but Geraldine is staking a claim on Christabel now.
  • Now we know for sure that Christabel giving Geraldine her hand and helping her across the threshold were both very bad decisions.
  • Christabel is either incredibly naïve or under a powerful spell.
  • She believes that Geraldine has been driven a little crazy by her ordeal with the men and the white horses, so she tries to comfort her.
  • Geraldine has worked up a sweat driving Christabel's guardian angel away.
  • She tells Christabel that it's over now. Christabel thinks that she means that her madness caused by her ordeal was only temporary. What Geraldine really means, though, is that she has successfully driven away the ghost who was trying to protect the girl.
  • Geraldine has some more of the wine and appears to be feeling much better now.
  • No longer frightened of the image of the angel above the lamp and now free of the protective spirit of Christabel's mother, Geraldine gets up from the floor.
  • Geraldine is tall and lovely, but in an exotic way, like a lady from a country far away.
  • Geraldine tells Christabel that the angels adore her and that she is holy and protected by them.
  • She also notes that the feeling is completely mutual between Christabel and the angels.
  • Geraldine then says that she will repay Christabel for all the kindness she has been shown.
  • We aren't sure whether to trust Geraldine here or not. Is she being purposely ambiguous? Does she really mean well, even after all the evidence we've seen that Geraldine may be some kind of dangerous, supernatural creature? Perhaps Geraldine believes that whatever she has planned for Christabel truly is a reward?
  • It looks like things are getting a little sexy again when Geraldine asks Christabel to get undressed.
  • Geraldine says that she must pray before joining Christabel in bed. Considering how she behaved when she saw the angel stature earlier, this scene begs the question of exactly whom Geraldine will be praying to.
  • Christabel's head is filled with thoughts, both good ("weal") and bad ("woe"), so she's having a hard time getting to sleep (239).
  • It's possible that Christabel's "thoughts of weal and woe" weren't about her betrothed, but instead about Geraldine. If Coleridge intended this to be about a woman-on-woman seduction, then he's being subtle about it at this point—at least until the next line when she starts gawking at the other woman.
  • Since she can't sleep, she decides to sit up, propping her head up on her elbow, to watch Geraldine as she prays.
  • Yep, this is definitely one of those awkward parts.
  • We can practically hear the Barry White being played in the background of this stanza as Geraldine undresses seductively in the lamplight.
  • Geraldine drops her robes and reveals her naked self to Christabel, who is still watching.
  • The rolling of her eyes is a bit odd though, and hardly erotic at all. Perhaps Geraldine wasn't praying so much as allowing herself to be possessed of some kind of demon?
  • At the time the poem was written, just as in the time in which it's set, a lesbian tryst would have been extremely taboo, if not a punishable offense. It has been said, however, that the Victorians had a voracious sexual appetite that was often reflected in their literature, and this racy scene is just the tip of the Victorian iceberg.
  • Even if the scene didn't involve two women, the scene would still be shocking, since Christabel is a virgin and betrothed to someone else. Pre-marital sex was a big no-no, and doubly so when it was with someone other than the person she was engaged to (not much has changed when it comes to that latter department).
  • The last line in stanza 28 begs whatever good spirits may still be around to protect poor Christabel from the evil thoughts that she's likely having, and also from whatever it is that Geraldine has planned.
  • Things are really heating up now, and we don't just mean in a sexy way.
  • It appears that Geraldine is having second thoughts about what she has set out to do.
  • She hesitates as she stands there naked and speechless, looking at Christabel as if to find a reason to change her mind.
  • "Assay" means attempt, so clearly Geraldine is troubled by her plan and tries with push away her doubts (259).
  • Geraldine apparently succeeds in convincing herself to commit the sin she has set out to commit. She slips into bed with Christabel, wrapping her in her arms like a lover.
  • "Ah wel-a-day!" is a lamentation much like "woe is me!" If we could see the speaker of the poem, he would most definitely have thrown his hand up to his forehead in a dramatic fashion.
  • Geraldine now whispers to Christabel that the act they are indulging in is shameful and the cause of much woe.
  • She continues to say that neither of them will speak of what they are doing, and that Christabel will simply tell everyone the story of finding Geraldine behind the tree and then bringing her into safety. It's mostly the truth, just, you know, leaving out the naughty bits.
  • Now, it's difficult to say whether Geraldine is weaving a literal spell over Christabel or if she simply means that the sex is like a spell. We've suspected all along that Geraldine is a witch or a vampire, so the spell might be the real deal. However, if sex weren't a powerful thing all on its own, then musicians wouldn't have much to sing about, movies wouldn't have much to show us, and probably wouldn't exist at all. Once again, we'll just have to keep moving through the poem to try to understand what's going on here.

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