The Conclusion to Part I, Stanzas 32-36
It was a lovely sight to see
The lady Christabel, when she
Was praying at the old oak tree.
Amid the jaggèd shadows
Of mossy leafless boughs,
Kneeling in the moonlight,
To make her gentle vows;
Her slender palms together prest,
Heaving sometimes on her breast;
Her face resigned to bliss or bale—
Her face, oh call it fair not pale,
And both blue eyes more bright than clear,
Each about to have a tear.
With open eyes (ah woe is me!)
Asleep, and dreaming fearfully,
Fearfully dreaming, yet, I wis,
Dreaming that alone, which is—
O sorrow and shame! Can this be she,
The lady, who knelt at the old oak tree?
And lo! the worker of these harms,
That holds the maiden in her arms,
Seems to slumber still and mild,
As a mother with her child.
A star hath set, a star hath risen,
O Geraldine! since arms of thine
Have been the lovely lady's prison.
O Geraldine! one hour was thine—
Thou'st had thy will! By tairn and rill,
The night-birds all that hour were still.
But now they are jubilant anew,
From cliffand tower, tu—whoo! tu—whoo!
Tu—whoo! tu—whoo! from wood and fell!
And see! the lady Christabel
Gathers herself from out her trance;
Her limbs relax, her countenance
Grows sad and soft; the smooth thin lids
Close o'er her eyes; and tears she sheds—
Large tears that leave the lashes bright!
And oft the while she seems to smile
As infants at a sudden light!
Yea, she doth smile, and she doth weep,
Like a youthful hermitess,
Beauteous in a wilderness,
Who, praying always, prays in sleep.
And, if she move unquietly,
Perchance, 'tis but the blood so free
Comes back and tingles in her feet.
No doubt, she hath a vision sweet.
What if her guardian spirit 'twere,
What if she knew her mother near?
But this she knows, in joys and woes,
That saints will aid if men will call:
For the blue sky bends over all!
- In the first stanza of Part I's conclusion, Coleridge has decided to give us a quick re-cap.
- The speaker paints a beautiful picture of Christabel, just before Geraldine comes on the scene.
- Christabel kneels at the tree in sentimental and loving memory of her beloved knight, who is off somewhere…being knightly. She cuts a lovely, innocent figure there in the dark, spooky forest.
- Honestly, the descriptions are on the melodramatic side, even for a Victorian poem, but there's a reason for this melodrama. By painting Christabel in such a bright light, the darkness that is about to befall her becomes all the more dark and sinister in comparison.
- The speaker skips all the stuff in the middle to bring us up to the hanky-panky that's going on in Christabel's bedroom.
- The speaker is taking an active part in the poem here in the conclusion. He speaks directly to us as if he were peeping at the scene in real time and relaying the events to us as they happen.
- This speaker's view of the events is what makes this section so judgmental. The speaker's voice is emulating what the reader is expected to be thinking.
- So, the speaker claims that he was dreaming, or at least he must have been dreaming for such a terrible thing to happen to such a lovely, young, innocent lady.
- There's that "wis" word again (294). Remember that it means "believe," which again tells us that the speaker believes (or just wants to believe) that he didn't actually witness what he witnessed.
- He wants to deny that the lady in bed with Geraldine is really sweet Christabel, whom he saw praying so sweetly at the tree before all of this happened.
- The last few lines point out just how shameful Geraldine is because she sleeps so peacefully.
- It is important to note that we, the readers, don't really know what happened. We can certainly make some assumptions based on the sexiness of the last stanza in Part I, and on just how offended the narrator is in this section, but we don't know for sure what happened.
- Geraldine is seen as a mother with her child, perhaps a metaphor for an experienced woman who has initiated an innocent into her world of lustful activities.
- Geraldine held Christabel in her spell for the entire witching hour while the night held its breath (and the speaker held his) and waited while whatever deed Geraldine had in mind was done.
- Now the owls and other creatures of the night are starting to stir again.
- Whatever spell Geraldine held over Christabel has ended.
- Christabel rolls over and goes to sleep now, but she's crying. Is she remorseful about what has happened or is she relieved to have expressed her true self? It seems that Christabel has mixed feelings about whatever she and Geraldine did because she cries, but then sometimes she smiles too.
- We will never truly know what was going on in Coleridge's mind when he wrote this poem, but it seems impossible not to see some of the poet's own personal issues reflected in this work. His addiction to laudanum, for example, was much like the picture drawn here of lady Christabel and her dark hour with Geraldine. Perhaps the speaker's struggle with the situation is the poet's attempt to work out his own struggles and shame. Check out "Speaker" for more on that.
- Line 324 is particularly interesting since "blood so free" could be a metaphor for sexual freedom. Now, feminism and the women's movements are still decades away from when the first part of "Christabel" was written, but that doesn't mean that the topic wasn't being bounced around. Coleridge was particularly close to William Wordsworth, whose work, both professionally and personally, often attempted to address marginalized people in society (in other words, women). So, it's possible that Coleridge may have picked up on some of these ideas. This isn't to say that "Christabel" is in any way a feminist poem, but simply that the ideas of feminism were beginning to bubble up in society and these things can sometimes sneak through the cracks.
- The last few lines of the concluding stanza remind both the reader and poor Christabel that the angels will always be there to help anyone who asks for help. The question is whether Christabel feels that she needs salvation or not. We'll find out in the morning…