Discuss supernaturalism in Coleridge's 'Christabel'.

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Coleridge, like other Romantic poets, frequently drew upon supernatural themes in his poetry. His most famous poems, 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' and the hallucinatory fragment 'Kubla Khan', incorporate strange signs, visions and events; and 'Christabel ' also falls into this category. Like 'Mariner'...

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it  is conceived as a long narrative poem, although Coleridge was unable to finish it. Coleridge sets the supernatural, witch-like figure of Geraldine against the innocence of the titular character Christabel to highlight the battle between good and evil.

The Romantic poets loved to draw upon old legends and folklore, and Geraldine, who appears as a some sort of (possibly lesbian) vampire, is clearly drawn from such sources. This kind of femme fatale figure, enticing and deadly, also appears in the work of other Romantic poets, perhaps most famously in Keats’s 'La Belle Dame sans Merci’. 

Ominous signs herald Geraldine's appearance; the cock crows at midnight, the dog howls dismally, the wind moans in the lonely forest, and so on. Coleridge thus establishes a suitably gothic setting for the piece, leading up to Cristabel’s first sight of Geraldine.

There she sees a damsel bright,

Dressed in a silken robe of white,

That shadowy in the moonlight shone:

The neck that made the white robe wan,

Her stately neck and arms were bare;

Her blue-veined feet unsandaled were,

And wildly glittered here and there

The gems entangled in her hair. (58-65)

This lady, then, is clothed in white, traditionally the colour of chastity and purity, and she appears gracious, ‘stately’, but there are also hints of a darker side to her in this description; her dress is ‘shadowy’, her jewels shine ‘wildly’. Christabel, at any rate, is completely duped by her and takes her home, to fall under her wicked spell.

The use of the supernatural in ’Christabel’ lends it an intriguing air, all the more so as the poem remains unfinished, and Geraldine’s exact nature and purpose is ultimately not disclosed. As with ‘Kubla Khan’ and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, the poem’s overall sense of strangeness is its most memorable aspect.

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What are some specific ways Coleridge employs the supernatural in Christabel?

Coleridge uses the supernatural in Christabel primarily as a way of exploring the age-old conflict between good and evil.

In the poem, we are presented with a stark contrast between the supernatural figure of Geraldine, almost a cross between a witch and a vampire, and the title character herself, who is given to us as the epitome of innocence and feminine virtue.

Before long, Christabel, and everyone who comes into contact with Geraldine, falls under her wicked spell. Geraldine's extraordinary beauty, which beguiles and intoxicates in equal measure, is most certainly not of this earth. It is a transcendent, ethereal beauty, one of many supernatural elements that Coleridge incorporates into his unfinished gothic masterpiece.

By using so many supernatural elements, Coleridge only adds to the general sense of intrigue that pervades the poem. The supernatural structures the narrative of Christabel, making us anxious to know what happens next.

The fusion of the supernatural with the natural produces some striking imagery that is a testament to Coleridge's poetic imagination. We can observe this remarkable faculty in action when the Baron has a terrible nightmare in which he sees a snake coiling its way around a dove's neck. Although the Baron recognizes the dove as representing Christabel, he's so enchanted by Geraldine that he doesn't put two and two together and realize that she's the snake.

The elements of the Baron's dream, the snake and the dove, may be natural, but the interpretation to be put upon them—that Geraldine is an evil creature not of this world, determined to destroy the innocent Christabel—is thoroughly supernatural.

This is entirely in keeping with Coleridge's fascination with the eternal struggle between the forces of light and darkness, a struggle whose illustration requires the poet to draw extensively upon gothic and supernatural elements.

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