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26 June, 2013
Outlines of English and American Literature|
by Long, William J.
|William Morris (1834-1896) has been called by his admirers the most Homeric
of English poets. The phrase was probably applied to him because of his
Sigurd the Volsung, in which he uses the material of an old
Icelandic saga. There is a captivating vigor and swing in this poem, but it
lacks the poetic imagination of an earlier work, The Defence of
Guenevere, in which Morris retells in a new way some of the fading
medieval romances. His best-known work in poetry [Footnote: Some readers
will be more interested in Morris's prose romances, The House of the
Wolfings, The Roots of the Mountains and The Story of the
Glittering Plain] is The Earthly Paradise, a collection of
twenty-four stories strung together on a plan somewhat resembling that of
the Canterbury Tales. A band of mariners are cast away on an island
inhabited by a superior race of men, and to while away the time the seamen
and their hosts exchange stories. Some of these are from classic sources,
others from Norse legends or hero tales. The stories are gracefully told,
in very good verse; but in reading them one has the impression that
something essential is lacking, some touch, it may be, of present life and
reality. For the island is but another Cloudland, and the characters are
shadowy creatures having souls but no bodies; or else, as some may find,
having the appearance of bodies and no souls whatever. Indeed, in reading
the greater part of Pre-Raphaelite literature, one is reminded of Morris's
estimate of himself, in the Prelude to The Earthly Paradise:
Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due time,
Why should I strive to set the crooked straight?
Let it suffice me that my murmuring rhyme
Beats with light wing against the ivory gate,
Telling a tale not too importunate
To those who in the sleepy region stay,
Lulled by the singer of an empty day.