“The Eve of St. Agnes” and “Christabel”

The Eve of St Agnes, 1856 Arthur Hughes

The Eve of St Agnes, 1856 Arthur Hughes

John Keats’s “The Eve of St. Agnes,” published four years after Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Christabel,” seems to have drawn inspiration from Coleridge’s poem as the two share rather similar opening scenes. Both of these poems open on bleak castle scenes late at night.

“The Eve of St. Agnes:”

St. Agnes’ Eve—ah, bitter chill it was!/ The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;/ The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass,/ And silent was the flock in woolly fold.

“Christabel:”

‘Tis the middle of the night by the castle clock,/ And the owls have awakened the crowing cock;/ Tu-whit!——Tu-whoo!/ And hark, again! the crowing cock,/ How drowsily it crew.

The opening scenes of both of these poems create a bleak, tense atmosphere, though “The Eve of St. Agnes” contains fewer supernatural elements throughout. There are also similar images and phrases throughout the two poems, such as the carved angels of Christabel’s bedchamber and the carved angels of the churchyard in “The Eve of St. Agnes.” The watchdogs of both poems also serve important, yet opposite, functions. Christabel’s toothless mastiff cries out in its sleep to indicate Geraldine’s evil, where Madeline’s bloodhound, recognizing her, does not call out, allowing Madeline to escape with Porphyro.

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