Christabel in Crisis

Coleridge creates a vivid narrative that takes readers through the surreal telling of the haunting tale of Christabel. The poem is full of detail, intense imagery, and high emotions. The focus of the poem is the lady Christabel, but it is not just the plot that follows her story, but also the form itself. The rhyme scheme and overall form of the poem reflect the powerful emotions Christabel is feeling, allowing the readers to be drawn into narrative alongside Christabel. Coleridge uses more than just powerful imagery as a tool for immersion, the form literally embodies the emotions of the heroine it follows.

Couplets are the most frequently used rhyme scheme in the poem. Couplets are easily recognizable for readers, similar sounds found one right after another allows for quick reading and digestion of a poem. The repetition and quickness of form in these couplets reminded me of feelings of fear itself. In experiencing a moment of uncertainty, anxiety, or fear a person’s heart usually tends to race, beating quickly and noticeably. This is reflected in the couplets that seem to be never ending when reading the poem.

The couplets are most frequent at times when Christabel is feeling fearful or encountering something unfamiliar. Even before the truly horrifying parts of the story are introduced, couplets are found when learning of Christabel’s dreams that “made her moan and leap” (29), or gray and chilly nights (20). As emotions shift, so does the rhyme scheme. Christabel is faced with a situation of “what it is she cannot tell” (40), as a result the rhyme scheme spreads out and moves from couplets to a staggered ABAB form. This slows down the flow of the poem, and as the rhymes become more separated and choppier, so do the thoughts of Christabel; who slows herself to ask questions about her surroundings: “Is it the wind that moaneth bleak?” (44). Christabel leaps suddenly (37) and so does the rhyme scheme. When she sees something unfamiliar (“a damsel bright”, 58) the rhyme scheme shifts back to couplets and emulates what could potentially be the racing thoughts of Christabel.

In addition to rhyme, the structure of the stanzas themselves often reflect what is happening in the poem itself. When Christabel is fearful of the strange lady Geraldine (62-65), and the strange lady herself claims that she “scarce can speak for weariness” (70) the stanzas become noticeably shorter as these fears and feelings of weariness are expressed. The connection between form and content in Christabel allows Coleridge to not just convey a story, but also an experience that can be felt by both the characters and readers of the poem.