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And naught was green upon the oak
“The night is chill, the forest bare :
Is it the wind that moaneth bleak?
“Hush, beating heart of Christabel!
What sees she there?"
While the innocent Christabel is thinking her prayers from the depths of her pure and loving heart, the witch is close by, in the shape of a woman richly clad and exceedingly beautiful. She asks for pity on her distress, telling that her name is Geraldine, and giving a deceitful story. The tender heart of Christabel is touched, and she bids the witch welcome to share her couch with her. The supernatural thickens as they enter into the castle, and the victim is getting entangled in the meshes of sorcery. According to the popular superstition, the witch
sinks, as if in sudden pain, at the threshold, and is lifted over by Christabel, who devoutly proposes a thanksgiving for their safety; but the evil spirit eludes it :
« Alas, alas!' said Geraldine;
"I cannot speak for weariness.'
As they move along, the sleeping mastiff utters an angry moan, and the dying embers on the hearth dart forth a tongue of flame, while a beautiful relief is given to the supernatural by an impulse of simple nature, in Christabel's tender thoughtfulness for her aged parent:
“They passed the hall, that echoes still
Pass as lightly as you will!
Christabel speaks, too, of her departed mother, when, lo! at her child's fond and innocent wish, echoed mysteriously by the witch, the guardian spirit of the mother is at hand, invisible except to the spectral sight of the sorceress; and a conflict ensues between the good and evil spirits :
«O mother dear! that thou wert here!'
“I would,' said Geraldine, she were !'
I have power to bid thee flee.'
“Then Christabel knelt by the lady's side,
And raised to heaven her eyes so blue,
The power of witchcraft goes on increasing. Geraldine's silken robe falls; and, beautiful and stately lady as she shone before, there is now disclosed to the heartstricken Christabel an untold sight of some hidden, hideous deformity, some superhuman stump, such as could only belong to a witch’s body. The poor maiden sinks into a trance, and her power of speech is sealed up by the incantation that is uttered over her by the demon drawing close to her side:
“In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell
Which is lord of thy utterance, Christabel."
I cannot trace the story of the poem without too much impairing the effect, and shall therefore only notice one or two passages in the remainder of it. The most striking of these is the apostrophe to the friends, and the sublimest image of a broken friendship to be found in the whole range of poetry :
“Alas, they had been friends in youth;
But whispering tongues can poison truth,
And constancy lives in realms above,
The admirable skill in the versification of the poem, and its exact adaptation to the spirit of different passages, may be shown by observing, in contrast with any of the passages I have recited, the sound of the spirited lines containing the command given by the knight to one of his retainers :
“Bard Bracy, bard Bracy! your horses are fleet;
The bard then narrates a dream which had distressed
his sleep, in which he had seen a beautiful bird—the pet dove of the castle--fascinated in the forest by a serpent, and fluttering and writhing in its toils. The dream needs no interpretation for either Geraldine or the spell-bound Christabel. When the witch hears it, she stealthily turns a look of withering fascination on her mute victim. The shrinking up of her eyes, and the large dilating of them when she assumes an air of innocence, are given with great power, as well as the effect on Christabel, who passively imitates the serpent-look that had appalled her:-
"A snake's small eye blinks dull and shy,
At Christabel she looked askance :
One moment--and the sight was filed!
6. The maid, alas! her thoughts are gone;
She nothing sees,--no sight but one!