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Myths and Legends
Wiiliam Morris
© William Morris Gallery, London
William Morris and the Legendary

Morris the poet

Morris found that he could write poetry, and at the age of only 24, published 'The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems'. As the title indicates, Morris was strongly attracted to the Arthurian Legends, which he read in Malory’s 'Morte D’Arthur'. The title poem of the volume has King Arthur’s Queen Guenevere vigorously defending her relationship with Lancelot, against the knights’ who accused her of adultery; she then accuses Arthur of having bought her in marriage with his “great name and his little love”.

Morris at 23
© William Morris Gallery, London
It is an astonishing point of view to be expressed by a young man in early Victorian Britain, with its emphasis of fidelity and the family. Other poems derive from the account given by the historian Jean Froissart of the 14th Century wars in which England tried to retain its hold on its territories in France.

Here again Morris, though attracted by the Middle Ages, is far from glamorising what occurred then. He shows how often violence and injustice prevailed. For example, in the dramatic poem 'The Haystack in the Floods', we are shown the loving knight Robert and his lady Jehane taken prisoner by the brutal Godmar, who murders Robert before Jehane’s eyes and against her will force her back to his castle.

Words: Peter Faulkner

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