William Morris : Literary Contribution

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      William Morris (1834-1896) produced a great amount of poetry and was one of the most conspicuous figures in mid-Victorian literature. He was born near London, the son of a wealthy merchant, and was educated at Marlborough and Oxford. His wealth, freeing him from the drudgery of a profession, permitted him to take a lively and practical interest in the questions of his day. Upon art, education, politics, and social problems his great energy and powerful mind led him to take very decided views, sometimes of an original nature. Here we are concerned only with his achievement in literature.

The bulk of Morris's poetry was written during the first forty-five years of his life. The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858) shows his love of beauty of colour, sound, and scenery, and his passion for the medieval.
William Morris

      The bulk of Morris's poetry was written during the first forty-five years of his life. The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858) shows his love of beauty of colour, sound, and scenery, and his passion for the medieval. In construction the poems of this volume are often faulty, and in style they have an abrupt roughness which is not seen in his later work. The Life and Death of Jason (1867), a heroic poem on a familiar theme, is told in smooth, easy couplets, and has the melancholy tone so common in Morris. The Earthly Paradise (1868-70) is a collection of tales, some classical, some medieval. In language and the predominance of the couplet they show the influence of Chaucer, though the languid harmony of Morris contrasts strongly with the racy vitality of his model. The best poetry in this work is to be found in the interspersed lyrics. His finest long narrative poem, The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs (1877), is based on the Norse sagas, and has great vigour of language and rhythm, combined with fine descriptive passages. Poems by the Way (1891) contains some good miscellaneous pieces.

      The literary production of the second part of Morris's life consisted mainly of prose romances, lectures, and articles. The best of his lectures are to be found in Hopes and Fears for Art (1882) and Signs of Change. (1888), and his socialist political hopes for the regeneration of English life find their fullest expression in A Dream of John Balk (1888) and News from Nowhere (1891). These same aspirations are always felt in the prose romances to which he devoted the last years of his life. Among them are A Tale of the House of the Wolfings (1889), The Roots of the Mountains (1890), The Story of the Glittering Plain (1891), and The Sundering Flood (1898).

      Morris's work reflects several strong influences: the interest in the medieval which drew him into the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood; his reverence for Chaucer; his love of Icelandic saga, which combined with Chaucer to give his style an archaic flavour, and his socialist idealism. Like Rossetti, he had the artist's passion for beauty, which finds its best expression in his fine English landscapes and the rich, tapestried descriptions of his narrative poems. In style he was smoothly melodious, often to the point of monotony, and the dominant mood of his work is a dreamy melancholy.

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