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' 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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