Coleridge’s Mastery over the Art of Mixing the Unreal and the Real ; Natural and Supernatural with reference to "Christabel"

     Supernaturalism is an outstanding romantic quality. It gives certain poems an eerie atmosphere by virtue of which the romantic poetry is often called the “renaissance of wonder”. Coleridge (1772-1834) is one of the greatest of romantic poets who touched lightly on all the keys of poetic expression, but he remains unequaled in one sphere of poetry – that is supernatural. Before Coleridge supernatural element had applied in English literature (apart from drama) in the works of Horace Walpole, Mrs. Ann Radcliff and Monk Lewis. While planning a new volume of poems to be jointly written by Wordsworth and Coleridge, Coleridge undertook to deal with the supernatural. As he himself tells us in “Biographia Literaria” (1817): “It was agreed that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadow of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith”. Coleridge in his masterpieces like ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, ‘Kubla Khan’ and ‘Christabel’ has shown his unrivalled mastery in his treatment of supernaturalism. He has created the atmosphere with his ruthless exclusion of crudity and sole reliance on subtle suggestive means. The remark that “the thing attempted in Christabel is the most delightful in the whole field of romance: Wicker by daylight” – indicates the peculiar quality of the supernatural element in the poem. Now let us see how far Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’ is imbued with supernatural element.
            ‘Christabel’ is a graceful recreation of the medieval world of fantasy, magic and marvel. Here Coleridge does not attach to the supernatural to anything concrete and definite rather by hinting invites the supernatural with the air of suggestion and indefiniteness which not only strikes the readers for its failure, but it suggests eeriness of a remote horror. Above all, the trick of carry on the narrative through question and answer is very much apt to this purpose.

            A proper supernatural atmosphere is created from the beginning of the poem. The story opens at the mid-night the time when charms and enchantments are undertaken and when ghosts appear and walk about. This mid-night hour is accompanied with the mysterious activities of owls, cock and mastiff bitch. They seem to scent the figure of a visitant from the other world. Again it is the hour when the spirit of the dead wife of Baron visits the castle to guard her daughter from evil spirit;
            “Tis the middle of night by the castle clock
            And the owls have awakened the crowing cock
            Tu –Whit! Tu –Whoo!”
Thus by the process of slow and attentive elaboration poet makes us psychologically prepare for the appearance of Geraldine.

            The most striking feature of Coleridge in creating the supernatural atmosphere is the admixture of real and unreal, natural and the supernatural. He brings an eerie sense in doing so. In ‘Christabel’ the night is calm and chilly. The night is fool-moon but the sky is over cast with thin grey clouds, which only covers but not hide the moon. So the moon appears both dull and small. The trees in the forest are leaf-less. There is no wind even to displace the curl of hair on christabel’s cheek. The only last red leaf of the huge oak remains unstirred. Thus the nature appears so vague that the scene brings a wild and mysterious look.
            “The thin grey cloud is spread on high,
            It covers but not hides the sky”.

            In the midst of such tense moment, Geraldine, a visitant from the other world appears with a suppressed moon. The lady is exceedingly beautiful. Her white neck, blue veined unsandaled feet, her silken robe, her dazzling jewels on her hair makes it clear that she belongs to not this world. Christabel is seized with fear. Above all, the naked breast of Geraldine suggests something ominous;
            “Behold! Her bosom and half her side
            A sight to dream of, not to tell!

            The supernatural aspect becomes more vivid when Coleridge leaves the readers to guess. We have to guess why Christabel laughs and weeps after the dream which itself also vague one. We have to guess why the breast of Geraldine is a thing of dream and not to tell. The poet further keeps us in the dark about what the mark of shame on the breast of Geraldine.

            The supernatural atmosphere becomes more vivid with medievalism. With the help of romantic imagination the very atmosphere and spirit of medieval ages has been re-constructed. In ‘Christabel’ the poet leads us to the old medieval days and let us sees their castle with moat, gate, tower-clock and bitch and breathes their religious and superstitious air.

            Thus we find in Coleridge no such blood curdling description ghosts gobbling or mysterious performed by the witches. Rather his treatment is subtle, psychological, refined and elegant. He naturalized the supernatural, and thus made it convincing. He had deftly created an atmosphere of mystery and indefiniteness in this poem by his subtle suggestions, as he creates in
            “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”;
            Water, Water, everywhere
            And all the boards did shrink;
            Water, Water, everywhere,
            Nor any drop to drink”.
Supernatural, Coleridge’s arch-stone, bears out his highly romantic imagination. That is why Coleridge is characterized by Saintsbury as the “high priest of romanticism”.

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