Christabel and the Metre of “our oldest Writers in the most barbarous ages”
The final chapter illustrates how Coleridge broke open English poetry anew by attempting to mimic the accentual metre of the Anglo-Saxons, however imperfect his understanding of it. The chapter reconstructs Coleridge’s knowledge about metre and applies scansion to his most experimental poems in order to show how his ideas about national literary history appear in his strange rhythms. Christabel has been an enigma since its 1816 publication. Its freely varying line lengths—the most variable in any English poem in centuries—paved the way for a new accentualism and for free verse. This chapter solves the longstanding mystery of Christabel metre’s intellectual origins by precisely locating the source in a neglected poem and the accompanying essay in Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.