Christabel is an unfinished narrative poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It is divided into two parts, the first of which was written in 1797 and the second in 1800. Both parts were first published in 1816 in the pamphlet Christabel; Kubla Khan; The Pains of Sleep. Coleridge intended to add a further three parts to Christabel that were never completed.
The poem's title character is a young noblewoman whose mother has died and who lives in a castle with her father, a baron named Sir Leoline. While she is alone in a forest at night, Christabel meets a beautiful woman. The woman says her name id Geraldine and that she was left in the forest by some man on horseback who took her from her home by force. Geraldine warns that the men may come back at any moment. Taking pity on Geraldine, Christabel allows her to spend the night at the castle. Geraldine's arrival at the castle is accompanied by several ominous signs and she behaves strangely once she is inside Christabel's bedroom. When Geraldine undresses to go to bed, Christabel sees that she has a disfiguring mark on one side of her body. Upon waking in the morning, Christabel has the feeling that she has sinned somehow. Christabel introduces Geraldine to her father. Geraldine tells Sir Leoline that her father is an old friend of his. Sir Leoline vows to take revenge on Christabel's abductors. It is clear that he is starting to fall in love with her. Convinced that Geraldine is dangerous, Christabel throws herself at her father's feet and begs him to send the woman away. Sir Leoline finds his daughter's behavior embarrassing and ignores her pleas.
It is strongly implied that Geraldine is a supernatural being who poses some kind of threat to Christabel. Theories about Geraldine include the ideas that she is a witch, a fairy, an angel, a demon, a serpent or a vampire. Since the poem is unfinished, exactly who or what Geraldine is and what her intentions toward Christabel and Sir Leoline are must remain unknown.
Christabel has been adapted as a film and has provided inspiration for musicians.
The poem opens on a chilly night in April. The moon is full but is covered by thin gray clouds and looks small and dull.
The previous night, the lady Christabel had worrying dreams about the knight that she is engaged to marry. She feels compelled to go alone into the woods at night to pray for his welfare. She prays at the foot of an enormous oak tree. Although the tree has no leaves of its own, moss and mistletoe grow on it. Christabel hears a moan coming from the other side of the tree. She looks behind the tree and sees a beautiful women in a white silk dress. There are jewels in her disheveled hair and her feet are bare. Christabel asks the woman who she is. In a faint voice, she says her name is Geraldine. and that five warriors on horseback took her by force from her home the previous morning. After a long journey, one of the men put her at the foot of the oak tree and told her that they would return soon. Christabel tells the woman that she will take her back to the castle of her gather, the baron Sir Leoline, and that she can rely on her father's protection. Christabel adds that her father is not in good health. For that reason, they will not wake him when they get back to the castle and will instead go quietly to Christabel's bedroom.
When Christabel unlocks a small door in the castle's iron gate, Geraldine faints. Christabel has to carry her over the threshold. Christabel says that they should say a prayer to thank the Virgin Mary for Geraldine's rescue. Geraldine says she is too tired to speak. When the two women walk past Sir Leoline's old mastiff, the dog gives out an angry groan in its sleep. When they walk past smoldering and almost burnt out torches in the castle's hall, large flames suddenly burst out of them for a short while.
In her bedroom, Christabel offers Geraldine some cordial that she says was made by her mother. She goes on to explain that her mother died while giving birth to her and adds that she wishes her mother were with her at that moment. Geraldine says she wishes Christabel's mother were there too. In a different tone of voice, Geraldine suddenly seems to call out to Christabel's mother's ghost, telling her to leave and saying she has the power to make her go even if she is Christabel's guardian spirit. Christabel, however, takes this strange behavior to just be a result of Geraldine's tiredness.
Geraldine tells Christabel that she is loved by "All those who live in the upper sky". She tells Christabel to undress and get into bed, adding that she has to pray before she can lie down. Christabel does as Geraldine asks. She finds, however, that she has thoughts that prevent her from going to sleep straight away. She sits up in bed and watches Geraldine. She sees Geraldine get undressed and notices that there is a disfiguring mark all over one side of her body. Geraldine gets into bed with Christabel, embraces her and tells her that the following day she will know about, "This mark of my shame. this seal of my sorrow." Geraldine keeps Christabel in her arms all night. By turns, Christabel cries and smiles in her sleep.
The dawn is greeted, as is each dawn at Sir Leoline's castle, by the sound of a bell tolling in memory of his late wife. Geraldine awakes, dresses and wakes up Christabel with a cheery morning greeting. Geraldine looks even lovelier to Christabel than she did when she first saw her. Christabel has the vague feeling that she committed some kind of sin during the night. She prays before taking Geraldine to meet her father.
Geraldine tells Sir Leoline about how she was abducted. She also says that her father is Lord Roland de Vaus Tryemaibe. Sir Leolie and Lord Roland had been very close friends when they were young. They fell out as the result of some quarrel and have not communicated with each other in years. Neither one of them has ever found such a good friend again. Sir Leoline swears that he will hunt down Geraldine's abductors and part their "reptile souls" from their seemingly human bodies. When she hears this, Geraldine embraces Sir Leoline. The sight of this makes Christabel shidder and causes her to draw in her breath with a hissing sound. Sir Leoline asks his daughter what is wrong. She is unable to answer.
Sir Leoline tells Bracy the bard to compose a song about how Geraldine is safe and well and to go forth and sing it everywhere he goes until he reaches Lord Roland's castle. Lord Roland and Sir Leoline will them meet again when Geraldine is escorted back home. When she hears this, Geraldine falls to Sir Leoline's knees with gratitude.
Bracy replies that he cannot do as Sir Leoline asks that day because he must first go to the wood and rid it of some unholy thing that dwells there. Bracy says he was warned of the thing in his sleep. He had a dream in which he saw Sir Leoline's pet dove, also called Christabel, writhing on the ground in agony. At first, Bracy could not see what was making the bird suffer. Then he saw that it was trapped in the coils of a snake as green as the grass. The snake bit the dove in the neck. Bracy woke up at that point. The bell in the clock tower told him that it was midnight but he was unable to get back to sleep. He promised that the following day he would go to the wood and loudly sing hymns to drive away the evil.
Sir Leoline only half listens to Bracy. He says that he and Lord Roland will kill the snake together. He and Geraldine look at each other lovingly.
Geraldine looks at Christabel. Geraldine's beautiful big blue eyes suddenly look like the small eyes of a snake. The shock makes Cgristabel draw in breath with a hissing sound again. Christabel says a silent prayer then falls at her father's feet. She begs him to send Geraldine away. She is, however, unable to say what threat Geraldine poses. Sir Leoline finds his daughter's behavior shameful. He chooses to ignore her and instead orders Bracy to go forth and sing the song about how Geraldine is safe.
The unfinished poem's story does not continue any further.
A 74-minute film adaptation of Christabel directed by the American experimental filmmaker James Fotopoulos was released in 2001.
The p[oem inspired the song "Christabel" by the American folk singer-songwriter Robert earl Keen that is included on the 1994 album No Kinda Dancer. It also influenced the song "Beauty of the Beast" by the Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish that is included on the 2002 album Century Child.