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Grey Sparrow Journal and Press, as of January 31, 2018 will move to

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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(from Christabel: a Fiction)

by Cooper Renner

There can be no interest, for an excerpt of this length, in dallying over details of the manuscript itself or of the manner of its discovery in [--------], Malta. The reader must know, however, that the lines given below are only an approximation of the original English verse, which has not survived, and are instead my translation of the unsigned Maltese pages. Though the subject matter is clearly that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, it is indeed peculiar that the poet never referred to having completed the poem during his months in Malta and in fact still labeled it unfinished when he published parts one and two in 1816 with John Murray. Though explanations for such extraordinary behavior can be found, the behavior is nonetheless notable and contributes to my contention that Coleridge may not be the author of parts three to five of the poem. My suggestion that John William Polidori (author of "The Vampyre") took it upon himself to complete the older poet's work is dealt with in more detail in my Introductory Essay (which Sleeping Fish will be kind enough to publish prior to the book's appearance) and need not be belabored here. In the notes which are adjacent to this extract from the poem, however, I will comment upon the verse with the conviction that, as we cannot currently know whether Coleridge or Polidori penned these lines, I must illuminate the possible connections of both men to the words before us. Readers who are unfamiliar with Coleridge's original publication may require a few words of explanation. Christabel is the daughter of the elderly Sir Leoline, whose wife died in giving birth, and lives with him in his castle. One evening Christabel finds in the forest a strange woman, Geraldine, who claims to have been kidnapped and tied to a tree by men who subsequently fled. Christabel brings her to the castle to assist her. Though Leoline quickly falls under the new young woman's spell, his daughter has profound doubts about the woman's character and intentions. 

(Excerpt from Part Three: Lines 119-194)

The fog so thick the droplets fall

Like footsteps all outside the Hall,     120

And Christabel may come and go

At will. No one will hear or know.

Inside her breast at every breath

The vapors curl and form a wreath

As thorny as Lord Jésu's crown

That Satan wove that Friday morn

He thought to throw his Master down.

At every bloody drop was born

A servant for the evil lord,

And gushed a cohort when the sword    130

Entered the ribs that dreadful eve.

But angels--nay, you must believe--

Were got at every holy word

Our Saviour spoke, though no one heard

Who understood. God bless the Rood!

And Christabel cannot reveal

The vision dark of Geraldine

She saw last night, the robe undone--

The flank and breast--for Satan has

Her under spell, her tongue in a vice.    140

But though her voice may not rebel

And though with words she may not tell,

Yet she can enter the forest deeps

And search while every other sleeps

Till she discovers, once again,

The old oak tree where Geraldine

Was prisoned--and mayhap the men

Who penned her there will come again.

The owl a-wing, the fox a-foot

Companion Christabel tonight,     150

And mist that gathers on the ferns

And cools the brow that Satan burns.

The drops that fall so musical

Cheer Christabel and make the pall

Around her like the Comforter

Who harks to every fitful prayer.

Though Leoline in blindness dine,

His daughter will not tread alone.

She stoops to pluck a muddy stone

Out of her sandal. 'Tis then she hears    160

Another's steps. Another nears.

Our maiden with her silent tread

Hides next a fir and drapes her head.

The wolf's keen scent, the falcon's eyes

Might find her where she quiet lies,

But not the human--

                        Can it be?

Is Geraldine outside the wall,

Sir Leoline in trancery

Within? And does the lady call

In woe again, again to snare      170

A tender heart all unaware?

But no! The answer sounds ahead,

Not words but as a dove that cooed.

The darkness forms, the fog takes shape,

Our maiden feels her heart lose hope:

The shadows show Sir Leoline

In sleeping habit, full confused;

His forearms hold his severed head.

Then shudders run his body through,

The draping falls, and flesh as blue     180

As leaping waves or plunging bird

Stands naked, waiting the demon's word.

Sir Leoline is whole, abed,

Asleep in body and in mind.

The evil Christabel divined

Is deeper and more full of dread.

But still she may not speak aloud

The horror that the darkness showed.

The fog encloses Geraldine,

And silence settles once again.     190

Maria! Jésu, guard the lord

Enchanted by the demon's word.

Let Christabel your succor know

And bid the cursed demon go!