Coleridge's Poems

Christabel - Part the Second

"Each matin bell," the Baron saith,

"Knells us back to a world of death."

These words Sir Leoline first said,

When he rose and found his lady dead: 335

These words Sir Leoline will say

Many a morn to his dying day!

And hence the custom and law began

That still at dawn the sacristan,

Who duly pulls the heavy bell, 340

Five and forty beads must tell

Between each stroke--a warning knell,

Which not a soul can choose but hear

From Bratha Head to Wyndermere.

Saith Bracy the bard, "So let it knell! 345

And let the drowsy sacristan

Still count as slowly as he can!

There is no lack of such, I ween,

As well fill up the space between.

In Langdale Pike and Witch's Lair, 350

And Dungeon-ghyll so foully rent,

With ropes of rock and bells of air

Three sinful sextons' ghosts are pent,

Who all give back, one after t' other,

The death-note to their living brother; 355

And oft too, by the knell offended,

Just as their one! two! three! is ended,

The devil mocks the doleful tale

With a merry peal from Borrowdale."

The air is still! through mist and cloud 360

That merry peal comes ringing loud;

And Geraldine shakes off her dread,

And rises lightly from the bed;

Puts on her silken vestments white,

And tricks her hair in lovely plight, 365

And nothing doubting of her spell

Awakens the lady Christabel.

"Sleep you, sweet lady Christabel?

I trust that you have rested well."

And Christabel awoke and spied 370

The same who lay down by her side--

O rather say, the same whom she

Raised up beneath the old oak tree!

Nay, fairer yet! and yet more fair!

For she belike hath drunken deep 375

Of all the blessedness of sleep!

And while she spake, her looks, her air,

Such gentle thankfulness declare,

That (so it seemed) her girded vests

Grew tight beneath her heaving breasts. 380

"Sure I have sinn'd!" said Christabel,

"Now heaven be praised if all be well!"

And in low faltering tones, yet sweet,

Did she the lofty lady greet

With such perplexity of mind 385

As dreams too lively leave behind.

So quickly she rose, and quickly arrayed

Her maiden limbs, and having prayed

That He, who on the cross did groan,

Might wash away her sins unknown, 390

She forthwith led fair Geraldine

To meet her sire, Sir Leoline.

The lovely maid and the lady tall

Are pacing both into the hall,

And pacing on through page and groom, 395

Enter the Baron's presence-room.

The Baron rose, and while he prest

His gentle daughter to his breast,

With cheerful wonder in his eyes

The lady Geraldine espies, 400

And gave such welcome to the same,

As might beseem so bright a dame!

But when he heard the lady's tale,

And when she told her father's name,

Why waxed Sir Leoline so pale, 405

Murmuring o'er the name again,

Lord Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine?

Alas! they had been friends in youth;

But whispering tongues can poison truth;

And constancy lives in realms above; 410

And life is thorny; and youth is vain;

And to be wroth with one we love

Doth work like madness in the brain.

And thus it chanced, as I divine,

With Roland and Sir Leoline. 415

Each spake words of high disdain

And insult to his heart's best brother:

They parted--ne'er to meet again!

But never either found another

To free the hollow heart from paining-- 420

They stood aloof, the scars remaining,

Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;

A dreary sea now flows between.

But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,

Shall wholly do away, I ween, 425

The marks of that which once hath been.

Sir Leoline, a moment's space,

Stood gazing on the damsel's face:

And the youthful Lord of Tryermaine

Came back upon his heart again. 430

O then the Baron forgot his age,

His noble heart swelled high with rage;

He swore by the wounds in Jesu's side

He would proclaim it far and wide,

With trump and solemn heraldry, 435

That they, who thus had wronged the dame

Were base as spotted infamy!

"And if they dare deny the same,

My herald shall appoint a week,

And let the recreant traitors seek 440

My tourney court--that there and then

I may dislodge their reptile souls

From the bodies and forms of men!"

He spake: his eye in lightning rolls!

For the lady was ruthlessly seized; and he kenned 445

In the beautiful lady the child of his friend!

And now the tears were on his face,

And fondly in his arms he took

Fair Geraldine, who met the embrace,

Prolonging it with joyous look. 450

Which when she viewed, a vision fell

Upon the soul of Christabel,

The vision of fear, the touch and pain!

She shrunk and shuddered, and saw again--

(Ah, woe is me! Was it for thee, 455

Thou gentle maid! such sights to see?)

Again she saw that bosom old,

Again she felt that bosom cold,

And drew in her breath with a hissing sound:

Whereat the Knight turned wildly round, 460

And nothing saw, but his own sweet maid

With eyes upraised, as one that prayed.

The touch, the sight, had passed away,

And in its stead that vision blest,

Which comforted her after-rest, 465

While in the lady's arms she lay,

Had put a rapture in her breast,

And on her lips and o'er her eyes

Spread smiles like light!

With new surprise,

"What ails then my beloved child?" 470

The Baron said--His daughter mild

Made answer, "All will yet be well!"

I ween, she had no power to tell

Aught else: so mighty was the spell.

Yet he, who saw this Geraldine, 475

Had deemed her sure a thing divine.

Such sorrow with such grace she blended,

As if she feared she had offended

Sweet Christabel, that gentle maid!

And with such lowly tones she prayed 480

She might be sent without delay

Home to her father's mansion.


Nay, by my soul!" said Leoline.

"Ho! Bracy the bard, the charge be thine!

Go thou, with music sweet and loud, 485

And take two steeds with trappings proud,

And take the youth whom thou lov'st best

To bear thy harp, and learn thy song,

And clothe you both in solemn vest,

And over the mountains haste along, 490

Lest wandering folk, that are abroad,

Detain you on the valley road.

"And when he has crossed the Irthing flood,

My merry bard! he hastes, he hastes

Up Knorren Moor, through Halegarth Wood, 495

And reaches soon that castle good

Which stands and threatens Scotland's wastes.

"Bard Bracy! bard Bracy! your horses are fleet,

Ye must ride up the hall, your music so sweet,

More loud than your horses' echoing feet! 500

And loud and loud to Lord Roland call,

'Thy daughter is safe in Langdale hall!

Thy beautiful daughter is safe and free--

Sir Leoline greets thee thus through me.

He bids thee come without delay 505

With all thy numerous array

And take thy lovely daughter home:

And he will meet thee on the way

With all his numerous array

White with their panting palfreys' foam': 510

And, by mine honour! I will say,

That I repent me of the day

When I spake words of fierce disdain

To Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine!--

--For since that evil hour hath flown, 515

Many a summer's sun hath shone;

Yet ne'er found I a friend again

Like Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine."

The lady fell, and clasped his knees,

Her face upraised, her eyes o'erflowing; 520

And Bracy replied, with faltering voice,

His gracious hail on all bestowing;

"Thy words, thou sire of Christabel,

Are sweeter than my harp can tell;

Yet might I gain a boon of thee, 525

This day my journey should not be,

So strange a dream hath come to me;

That I had vowed with music loud

To clear yon wood from thing unblest,

Warned by a vision in my rest! 530

For in my sleep I saw that dove,

That gentle bird, whom thou dost love,

And call'st by thy own daughter's name--

Sir Leoline! I saw the same,

Fluttering, and uttering fearful moan, 535

Among the green herbs in the forest alone.

Which when I saw and when I heard,

I wondered what might ail the bird;

For nothing near it could I see,

Save the grass and green herbs underneath the old tree. 540

"And in my dream, methought, I went

To search out what might there be found;

And what the sweet bird's trouble meant,

That thus lay fluttering on the ground.

I went and peered, and could descry 545

No cause for her distressful cry;

But yet for her dear lady's sake

I stooped, methought, the dove to take,

When lo! I saw a bright green snake

Coiled around its wings and neck. 550

Green as the herbs on which it couched,

Close by the dove's its head it crouched;

And with the dove it heaves and stirs,

Swelling its neck as she swelled hers!

I woke; it was the midnight hour, 555

The clock was echoing in the tower;

But though my slumber was gone by,

This dream it would not pass away--

It seems to live upon my eye!

And thence I vowed this self-same day 560

With music strong and saintly song

To wander through the forest bare,

Lest aught unholy loiter there."

Thus Bracy said: the Baron, the while,

Half-listening heard him with a smile; 565

Then turned to Lady Geraldine,

His eyes made up of wonder and love;

And said in courtly accents fine,

"Sweet maid, Lord Roland's beauteous dove,

With arms more strong than harp or song, 570

Thy sire and I will crush the snake!"

He kissed her forehead as he spake,

And Geraldine in maiden wise

Casting down her large bright eyes,

With blushing cheek and courtesy fine 575

She turned her from Sir Leoline;

Softly gathering up her train,

That o'er her right arm fell again;

And folded her arms across her chest,

And couched her head upon her breast, 580

And looked askance at Christabel--

Jesu, Maria, shield her well!

A snake's small eye blinks dull and shy,

And the lady's eyes they shrunk in her head,

Each shrunk up to a serpent's eye, 585

And with somewhat of malice, and more of dread,

At Christabel she looked askance!--

One moment--and the sight was fled!

But Christabel in dizzy trance

Stumbling on the unsteady ground 590

Shuddered aloud, with a hissing sound;

And Geraldine again turned round,

And like a thing, that sought relief,

Full of wonder and full of grief,

She rolled her large bright eyes divine 595

Wildly on Sir Leoline.

The maid, alas! her thoughts are gone,

She nothing sees--no sight but one!

The maid, devoid of guile and sin,

I know not how, in fearful wise, 600

So deeply had she drunken in

That look, those shrunken serpent eyes,

That all her features were resigned

To this sole image in her mind:

And passively did imitate 605

That look of dull and treacherous hate!

And thus she stood, in dizzy trance,

Still picturing that look askance

With forced unconscious sympathy

Full before her father's view-- 610

As far as such a look could be

In eyes so innocent and blue!

And when the trance was o'er, the maid

Paused awhile, and inly prayed:

Then falling at the Baron's feet, 615

"By my mother's soul, do I entreat

That thou this woman send away!"

She said: and more she could not say:

For what she knew she could not tell,

O'er-mastered by the mighty spell. 620

Why is thy cheek so wan and wild,

Sir Leoline? Thy only child

Lies at thy feet, thy joy, thy pride,

So fair, so innocent, so mild;

The same, for whom thy lady died! 625

O, by the pangs of her dear mother

Think thou no evil of thy child!

For her, and thee, and for no other,

She prayed the moment ere she died:

Prayed that the babe for whom she died, 630

Might prove her dear lord's joy and pride!

That prayer her deadly pangs beguiled,

Sir Leoline!

And wouldst thou wrong thy only child,

Her child and thine? 635

Within the Baron's heart and brain

If thoughts, like these, had any share,

They only swelled his rage and pain,

And did but work confusion there.

His heart was cleft with pain and rage, 640

His cheeks they quivered, his eyes were wild,

Dishonoured thus in his old age;

Dishonour'd by his only child,

And all his hospitality

To the insulted daughter of his friend 645

By more than woman's jealousy

Brought thus to a disgraceful end--

He rolled his eye with stern regard

Upon the gentle minstrel bard,

And said in tones abrupt, austere-- 650

"Why, Bracy! dost thou loiter here?

I bade thee hence!" The bard obeyed;

And turning from his own sweet maid,

The aged knight, Sir Leoline,

Led forth the lady Geraldine! 655