The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Christabel is a long narrative poem, most of which is written in tetrameter couplets. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge himself pointed out in the original preface to the work, although the meter is standard, the number of syllables is somewhat irregular, varying from seven to twelve. The simple title emphasizes the fact that the story told by the poet is indeed Christabel’s story, the story of her struggle against possession by a demonic force.

From the scenic description in part 2 of Christabel, critics have deduced that the geographical setting Coleridge chose for his poem was the Lake District of England, where he had lived for some time near his friend and fellow poet William Wordsworth. The historical setting is the Middle Ages and, appropriately, the physical milieu is the castle of a baron, Sir Leoline.

Christabel begins in the forest outside the castle. Although it is a chilly night in early spring, the protagonist, Christabel, has sought the solitude of the woods to pray for her absent lover. Suddenly a mysterious lady emerges from the darkness. After introducing herself as “Geraldine,” she says that she was abducted from her own home by five knights, who deposited her in the woods but will return for her. Taking pity upon Geraldine, Christabel helps her into the castle, ignoring such warnings of evil as the lady’s seeming inability to walk across the threshold, which had been blessed against evil spirits,...

(The entire section is 574 words.)