Coleridge, as a poet of supernaturalism

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Supernatural elements are peppered throughout Coleridge’s Christabel, in his essay On Poesy or Art, Coleridge talks about his view on “natura naturata”, “If the artist copies the mere nature, the natura naturata, what idle rivalry! If he proceeds only from a given form, which is supposed to answer to the notion of beauty, what an emptiness, what an unreality there always is in his productions, as in Cipriani’s pictures! Believe me, you must master the essence, the natura naturans, which presupposes a bond between nature in the higher sense and the soul of man.” (Coleridge) Having surpassed “the natura naturata”, Coleridge’s “humanizing nature” is of significance both in poetry and art. It shows that in Coleridge’s opinion, “the natura naturata” should be replaced by “humanizing nature”, in order to give the readers “willing suspension of disbelief”. (Coleridge) Coleridge embraces supernatural elements in Christabel, for more specific, supernatural figures and supernatural atmosphere, to blend nature into supernatural elements, and mix up reality and illusion, beauty and horror.

The portrayal of characters are gothic in Christabel. The poet describes Geraldine as a countrèe, “again the wild-flower wine she drank/ her fair large eyes ’gan glitter bright,/ and from the floor whereon she sank/ the lofty lady stood upright/ she was most beautiful to see/ like a lady of a far countrèe.” The image of Geraldine is beautiful and elegant, however, her behavior is horrifying, she controls the innocent Christabel’s mind, and Christabel even makes “hissing” sound like the snack, “but Christabel in dizzy trance/ stumbling on the unsteady ground/ shuddered aloud,/ with a hissing sound.” It is supernatural that the mortal girl makes hissing sound. Her reaction, which is entirely distinct from the ordinary, brings out how scary Geraldine is.

Supernatural atmosphere plays a significant part in Christabel. While Geraldine passing the sleepy mastiff, the mastiff makes an ominous moan, and it is likely that the moan indicates something unfortunate, “outside her kennel, the mastiff old/ lay fast asleep, in moonshine cold/ the mastiff old did not awake,/ yet she an angry moan did make!” Not only the description of environment, the psychological activities are also depicted naturally in such a horrible setting. Then, they go to Christabel’s chamber, “the brands were flat, the brands were dying,/ amid their own white ashes lying;/ but when the lady passed,/ there came/ a tongue of light, a fit of flame.” Coleridge uses “flat”, “dying”, and “lying” to push the reader to a miserable scene; meanwhile, they are in contrast with “light” and “flame”, which also indicate the power of destroying. In this paragraph, the supernatural elements become the tools for suspension and rendering the dramatic atmosphere.

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One thought on “Coleridge, as a poet of supernaturalism

  1. The gothic and supernatural conventions is definitely what makes Geraldine intriguing; not to mention the ambiguity of the character and relation she builds with Christabel and her father. The poem is fascinating because it not only represents the era (fragmentive, supernatural conventions, etc .. ) but also it opens up other opossible ideas of what Geraldine actually is. Is she human? vampire? supernatural? Christabel’s nemesis or double?

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