Part I, Stanzas 5-12
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.
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—
There 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.
Hush, beating heart of Christabel!
Jesu, Maria, shield her well!
She folded her arms beneath her cloak,
And stole to the other side of the oak.
What sees she there?
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 unsandl'd were,
And wildly glittered here and there
The gems entangled in her hair.
I guess, 'twas frightful there to see
A lady so richly clad as she—
Mary mother, save me now!
(Said Christabel) And who art thou?
The lady strange made answer meet,
And her voice was faint and sweet:—
Have pity on my sore distress,
I scarce can speak for weariness:
Stretch forth thy hand, and have no fear!
Said Christabel, How camest thou here?
And the lady, whose voice was faint and sweet,
Did thus pursue her answer meet:—
My sire is of a noble line,
And my name is Geraldine:
Five warriors seized me yestermorn,
Me, even me, a maid forlorn:
They choked my cries with force and fright,
And tied me on a palfrey white.
The palfrey was as fleet as wind,
And they rode furiously behind.
They spurred amain, their steeds were white:
And once we crossed the shade of night.
As sure as Heaven shall rescue me,
I have no thought what men they be;
Nor do I know how long it is
(For I have lain entranced I wis)
Since one, the tallest of the five,
Took me from the palfrey's back,
A weary woman, scarce alive.
Some muttered words his comrades spoke:
He placed me underneath this oak;
He swore they would return with haste;
Whither they went I cannot tell—
I thought I heard, some minutes past,
Sounds as of a castle bell.
Stretch forth thy hand (thus ended she).
And help a wretched maid to flee.
Then Christabel stretched forth her hand,
And comforted fair Geraldine:
O well, bright dame! may you command
The service of Sir Leoline;
And gladly our stout chivalry
Will he send forth and friends withal
To guide and guard you safe and free
Home to your noble father's hall.
- It took five stanzas, but the action is finally starting to heat up.
- It's a classic horror movie scene: Christabel is just sitting there in the cold and quiet minding her own business when, suddenly, someone starts moaning from the other side of the tree.
- She doesn't know where the sound is coming from, but she knows it's very nearby.
- We are reminded of the weather yet again, but this time it's so we realize that there won't be any animals stirring in the cold.
- The sound couldn't have been the wind either since there isn't any. In fact, the wind is so light that Christabel's perfectly coiffed hair is still curly and hanging just right.
- To say that Coleridge was a fan of nature is a bit of an understatement. We can see his fascination with nature in stanzas like this one, where he has the speaker focus on a single element of nature for several lines—even if it has little to do with the story that is being told.
- We do have to give the leaf some credit for being so tenacious though. We know from the first stanza that it's the very beginning of spring, so that one little red leaf has been hanging onto that branch all winter.
- Christabel is clearly spooked in this stanza. Her heart is beating so loudly that the speaker has to tell it to quiet down.
- No, line 54 isn't a typo. "Jesu" is the vocative form of Jesus, and it comes from the Latin biblical texts that were common in the Church of England. Though the "s" was added to the spelling of Jesus's name sometime in the sixteenth century, poets like Coleridge liked to use the old spelling, likely because it sounded more poetic and maybe just a bit more authentic to their ears.
- "Maria" is also the Latin spelling of Mary. Like Jesu, Coleridge likely felt that Maria sounded more poetic than Mary.
- Christabel decides to look on the other side of the big oak tree to see if that's where the moaning might be coming from. This may or may not be her first mistake.
- It might be interesting to note that the last four lines of the fifth stanza have the same rhyme structure as a limerick, which is a form usually reserved for silly or dirty stories that are easy to recite and even easier to remember.
- On the other side of the tree is a lady dressed in white robe—yipes.
- Nope, that's not a typo in line 59 either: "Drest" is just the way "dressed" was spelled at the time.
- Though the robe is so bright that it looks like it was shining in the moonlight, the damsel's skin is so pale that it makes the white robe look like a dull and sickly color in comparison.
- Clearly this woman is inappropriately dressed, both for the weather and for the time period, since her arms and neck are revealed. Though low necklines were common at the time, bare arms were not. Of course, considering how chilly the weather is (and Coleridge certainly doesn't let us forget just how chilly it is, does he?), she really should be a little more bundled up.
- The blue veins in her feet are another indication of just how pale-skinned this woman is. This detail is one of several in the poem that has inspired the popular theory that this woman (whose name we don't know yet) is actually a vampire. Back then, vampires didn't sparkle, but they were terribly pale and were often found in strange places, like behind trees in the middle of a cold night.
- It's not clear whether Coleridge means literal or figurative gems in line 65. Since the woman is out at night and appears to be very cold, the gems could simply be frost or maybe dew. However, line 67 leads us to believe that these might be literal gems. The Victorians loved their bling. Women's hairstyles, especially for the upper classes, were usually complicated and heavily adorned.
- In the last stanza, we found hints that this mysterious woman might be a vampire, but in stanza 9 we uncover something even saucier: potential lesbianism. Some scholars believe that Coleridge's intention for this poem was to illustrate a woman struggling with her feelings for another woman, and this stanza is where this idea bubbles to the surface. The speaker has just finished talking about how beautiful this woman is, and suddenly Christabel—and Coleridge makes very sure we know it's Christabel who is talking—is praying for salvation. What else would Christabel need saving from, if not from thoughts believed to be sinful and inappropriate at the time?
- Finally, in line 70, Christabel asks the woman what we've all been wondering: um, who are you?
- The next line is a long and fancy way to say simply that the woman answered Christabel's question.
- The lady tells Christabel that she's so tired that she can barely speak and asks her to help her up from the ground. She also tells Christabel not to be afraid, but we're not sure how convincing her pleas are, considering the whole "hanging out behind a tree at midnight and looking like a vampire" thing she has going on.
- Before Christabel commits to helping her up, she wants to know how the lady got there, which is a pretty justified question, in our opinion.
- Once again we're reminded that the lady's voice is soft and pleasant-sounding as she starts to answer Christabel's question. The stanza break before we actually get to that answer operates as a dramatic pause, kind of like when a TV show breaks for a commercial right before something major happens.
- Finally, we know this woman's name: Geraldine. A modern reader might feel like the name breaks the rhyme, but the last part of the name was pronounced at the time like "dine" as in to eat, not "deen" as in Paula, so Coleridge's rhyming skills remain intact here.
- In line 79, the word "sire" means father. In case you're curious, "dam" would be the name for the mother.
- Geraldine launches into a description of her ordeal. It's a pretty melodramatic story, but it leaves a lot of details out.
- She expects Christabel to just accept that she's a noble's daughter without any name-dropping, which seems a bit odd, really. If we were of noble blood, we'd be dropping names all over the place.
- Geraldine's story leaves a lot of unanswered questions, which is a bummer because most will stay unanswered, thanks to Coleridge never finishing the poem.
- Geraldine's vague story makes us feel like the details we are given about the situation may be important. Specifically, the number of men and the color of the horses may give us some clues about what's going on.
- The number five is thought to be symbolic of God's grace, and it often appears in important places in several different religious traditions. Five men on white horses (that's what she means by "palfrey") really just screams "we're the good guys!" to us. This doesn't help our suspicions that Geraldine is a bad guy (or woman) at all.
- Speaking of white horses, according to legend, a white horse will not walk over the grave of a vampire. Perhaps these men were out specifically hunting for vampires and their white horses allowed them to find Geraldine as she snuggled back into her coffin for a rest "yestermorn."
- She also says that she isn't sure how long they rode because she was entranced, which could simply indicate that she was in whatever state vampires are in during the daytime.
- By the way, "wis" means to believe or suppose (92).
- In fact, this whole section makes us suspicious of Geraldine's honesty about her situation. Why would a group of men kidnap her and then just leave her beneath a tree once it got dark, telling her that they'll be back? If she were a normal maid, like she claims, this would all be quite odd, wouldn't it? Why wouldn't she just get up and leave? Our alarm bells are going crazy over here.
- One more nail in the vampire coffin (a little pun intended) is that oak tree. As we discovered in line 33 back in stanza 4, the oak has some pretty heavy symbolism attached to it. It turns out that, in addition to it being sacred, oak is the preferred wood for making stakes for driving through a vampire's heart to kill it a second, more permanent, time.
- Geraldine ends by telling Christabel that she doesn't know where these men went, but they'll be back soon, so she needs Christabel's help to escape them. We still think this whole situation is pretty darned suspicious though.
- Geraldine seems to be getting a little pushy. She asks, for a second time, for Christabel to reach out her hand. As a vampire or a witch, Geraldine would need a clear invitation to enter Christabel's home. It doesn't have to be written with fancy script or anything; Christabel's outstretched hand will do just fine.
- Christabel falls for—um, we mean she sympathizes with Geraldine's story. She reaches out her hand to help the strange woman up.
- While she helps Geraldine stand, she starts talking up her dad and his knights like some kind of propaganda machine. She tells the strange lady that her dad, Sir Leoline, is brave and chivalrous and that Geraldine can now count him and his knights among her friends. She insists that they will get her back home safe and sound. If infomercials existed at the time, Christabel's shtick would make the Sham-Wow guy jealous.