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.

Limón and Blake: Similar ideals, hundreds of years apart

Who gets to look? Ada Limón would say that anyone who wishes to look, can, and should look. This act of looking is the primary role of a tourist, an onlooker full of interest, attention, and appreciation. Tourists travel from place to place, looking at countries, streams, oceans, castles, churches, ruins. Most importantly, tourists, whether literal or metaphorical, look at life, acknowledge life, and savor the act of being, and what has been. During her Dickinson Stellfox residency, Limón noted that she was most interested and inspired by the fact that we live, and we die. 

This same inspiration is exceedingly apparent in William Blake’s work, specifically in his poem The Fly. The speaker of the poem views the fly’s life from an outside perspective, as someone whose “Thoughtless hand/ has brushed away” (3-4) the fly; but also sees the fly from a very familiar perspective. The speaker realizes that both live and both die, making them quite similar in a very simplistic way. They take note of the little things like the fly itself, but doesnt see the fly as small. Instead the fly is viewed simply: as a living being who experiences high and low points in life just like humans do (even if its ultimate low point is being brushed away.) When viewing life in this way there is no gender, and there is no class. There is only the simple act of being alive. With no confinements or definitions, and only viewing life, being watchful, and being a tourist or watcher who thinks, lives, and is interested and appreciates their being, as well as the fly’s. “Am not I/ A fly like thee? / Or art not thou /  A man like me?” (5-8) efficiently equates man to fly, and suggests that even the “little fly” (1) is capable of this appreciation and experience of a good life, just like the speaker and just like Ada Limón’s ideas. 

Both poets share a similar appreciation for intersections between nature and mankind, as well as the simplicity in life itself. Being mindful, stopping to think, to look, to watch, or listen, was the advice of United State’s 24th poet laureate, Ada Limón. Her words, alongside Blake’s, suggest that there is a certain greatness in taking a moment to be a tourist, who is simply watching and exploring life.


The Art of Hopping

       Romantic poetry often focuses on the beauty of nature, the value of individual thoughts, and the power found in complexities. In a time where writing is largely a product of revolution, new thoughts and ideas are essential to the foundation of this new era of writing. Wordsworth explores all of these things in his poem, Lines Written in Early Spring, but goes beyond just recognizing beauty, or being excited about new ideas. Instead, this poem reflects the interconnected nature of all living things in the universe, as the speaker in the poem grapples with their own state of being, leading them to consider things around them that would otherwise be seen as something unimportant, like the thoughts of birds.

       The first stanza introduces the speaker’s environment, and slightly confused mental state; but it also breaks the otherwise consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB found throughout the rest of the poem. The speaker notes the thousands of “blended notes” they hear coming from the birds around them as they appreciate the harmony found in the nature around them (L. 1). Then follows this thought by their slight distress at the fact that “pleasant thoughts/ Bring sad thoughts to mind” (L.3-4). When considering the poem as a whole, the inconsistent rhyming between “notes” and “thoughts” actually allows the contradiction found in the speaker’s emotional state to seep into the form of the writing itself. The entire rhyme scheme pairs the final words of alternating lines, and despite the fact that the words in lines 1 and 3 are not direct rhymes, the pairing of “blended notes” and “thoughts” interested me. Maybe, the inconsistent form is meant to draw attention to the fact that the speaker’s thoughts break the “blend” and harmony found in his tranquil surroundings, where birds “hop and play” (L. 13). Much like how the literal presence and sound of the word “thoughts” breaks the rhyme scheme. This highlights one of the major themes within the poem, which is the speaker’s realization of complexity, both in himself, and in nature. The speaker recognizes the presence of emotional multiplicities first in themself, but then later in the birds.

         The hopping of the birds mentioned in line 13 is mirrored by the speaker’s words through the form of the poem itself. The rhyme scheme is significant to the connection between man and nature once again in that the rhyming of words “hops” between lines. The alternation of rhyming words as a result of the ABAB system is much like a bird that hops from one place to the next. Starting at one place, taking off, skipping over a short stretch of land, and then landing firmly at a spot not far in front of where the “hop” was started. The speaker feels that their soul becomes linked to nature (L. 5-6), this link is also forged in the form of the retelling itself. The speaker “cannot measure” (L.13) the bird’s thoughts, much like he cannot measure their own. Even the birds, as they play and hop only seem to display the “thrill of pleasure” (L. 16) 

       In forming a connection between the pleasant view of hopping birds, and the sadness the speaker finds in normal pleasant things, Wordsworth leaves audiences with a poem that shows that admiring nature is only scratching the surface of what the living things on earth actually have to offer. Even suggesting that the most pleasant things can be often correlated with corruption, sadness or other complete opposite feelings. To stop at something’s surface beauty or outward display of emotion deprives the onlooker of a certain “truth” that is apparent when one looks beyond initial appearances.