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   Chapter 6 POETRY.

William Morris By Elizabeth Luther Cary Characters: 47659

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Intent as he was upon the artistic success of his work in decoration, and ardent in giving time and thought to achieving this success, Morris was far from excluding poetry from the sum of his occupations. The five years following his marriage (1859-1864), indeed, were barren of any important literary work. He had planned, somewhat anticipating the large scale of his later verse, a cycle of twelve poems on the Trojan War, but he completed only six of the twelve, and the project was presently abandoned. After the Red House was sold, however, and he was back in London with the time on his hands saved from the daily journey, he began at once to make poetry of a form entirely different from anything he had previously written. The little sheaf of poems contained in his early volume had been put together by the hand of a boy. The poem published in June, 1867, under the title The Life and Death of Jason, was the work of a man in full possession of his faculty. It was simple, certain, musical, and predestined to speedy popularity, even Tennyson, with whom Morris was not a favourite, liking the Jason. It flowed with sustained if monotonous sweetness through seventeen books in rhymed pentameter, occasionally broken by octosyllabic songs. Although published as a separate poem, on account of the length to which it ran, apparently almost in despite of its author's will, it had been intended to form part of the series called The Earthly Paradise, the first division of which followed it in 1868. This ambitious work was suggested by Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and consists of no fewer than twenty-four long narrative poems, set in a framework of delicate descriptive verse containing passages that are the very flower of Morris's poetic charm. The scheme of the arrangement is interesting. A little band of Greeks, "the seed of the Ionian race," are found living upon a nameless island in a distant sea. Hither at the end of the fourteenth century-the time of Chaucer-come certain wanderers of Germanic, Norse, and Celtic blood who have set out on a voyage in search of a land that is free from death, driven from their homes by the pestilence sweeping over them. Hospitably received, the wanderers spend their time upon the island entertaining their hosts with the legends current in their day throughout Western Europe, and in turn are entertained with the Hellenic legends which have followed the line of living Greek tradition and are told by the fourteenth-century islanders in the medi?val form and manner proper to them at that time. Among the wanderers are a Breton and a Suabian, and the sources from which the stories are drawn have a wide range. They were at first, indeed, intended to represent the whole stock of the world's legends, but this field was too vast for even the great facility of Morris, and much was set aside. At the end we find The Lovers of Gudrun, taken from the Laxd?la Saga of Iceland, and bearing witness in the grimness of its tragedy and the fierceness of its Northern spirit to the powerful influence of the Icelandic literature upon the mind of Morris. It is the only story in the collection which has dominated his dreamy medi?valism and struck fire from his pen.

Morris's Bed, with Hangings designed by himself

and embroidered by his Daughter

In The Earthly Paradise we have all the qualities that make its author dear to most of his readers. The mind is steeped in the beauty of imagery, and content to have emotion and thought lulled by the long, melancholy swing of lines that seem like the echo of great poetry without its living voice. Such poetry is what Morris wished his decorations to be-the "lesser art" that brings repose from the quickening of soul with which a masterpiece is greeted. The spirit revealed through the fluent murmur of the melodious words is very true to him and lies at the root of all his efforts toward making life fair to the eyes and soothing to the heart. The "unimpassioned grief," the plaintive longing with which he regarded the fleeting and unsatisfying aspects of a world so beautiful and so sorrowful, never found more exquisite expression than in passage after passage of this pellucid and lovely verse. The flight from death and the seeking after eternal life on this material globe constitute a theme that had for him a singular fitness. No one could have rendered with more sensitive appreciation the mood of men who set their life at an unmeasured price. No one could have expressed the dread of dying with more poetic sympathy. The preludes to the stories told on the island are poems addressed to the months of the changing year, and not one is free from the grievous suggestion of loss or the weary burden of fear and dejection. Read without the intervening narratives, they wrap the mind in an atmosphere of foreboding. There is no welcome unaccompanied by the shadow of farewell. There is no leaping of the heart to meet sunshine and fair weather without its corresponding faintness of shrinking from the clouds and darkness certain to follow. With a brave determination to seize exultation on the wing, he cries to March:

Yea, welcome March! and though I die ere June,

Yet for the hope of life I give thee praise,

Striving to swell the burden of the tune

That even now I hear thy brown birds raise,

Unmindful of the past or coming days;

Who sing: "O joy! a new year is begun:

What happiness to look upon the sun!"

But what follows? The sure reminder of the silence that shall come after the singing:

Ah, what begetteth all this storm of bliss

But Death himself, who crying solemnly,

E'en from the heart of sweet Forgetfulness,

Bids us "Rejoice, lest pleasureless ye die.

Within a little time must ye go by.

Stretch forth your open hands, and while ye live

Take all the gifts that Death and Life may give."

And in the stanzas for October, written, Mr. Mackail tells us, in memory of a happy autumn holiday, we have the most poignant note of which he was capable:

Come down, O Love; may not our hands still meet,

Since still we live to-day, forgetting June,

Forgetting May, deeming October sweet-

-O hearken, hearken! through the afternoon,

The grey tower sings a strange old tinkling tune!

Sweet, sweet, and sad, the toiling year's last breath,

Too satiate of life to strive with death.

And we too-will it not be soft and kind,

That rest from life, from patience and from pain;

That rest from bliss we know not when we find;

That rest from Love which ne'er the end can gain?-

Hark, how the tune swells, that erewhile did wane?

Look up, Love!-ah, cling close and never move!

How can I have enough of life and love?

June, the high tide of the year, he selects as the fitting month in which to tell of something sad:

Sad, because though a glorious end it tells,

Yet on the end of glorious life it dwells.

In February he asks:

Shalt thou not hope for joy new born again,

Since no grief ever born can ever die

Through changeless change of seasons passing by?

Kelmscott Manor House from the Orchard

Thus across the charming images of French romance, Hellenic legend, and Norse drama, falls the suggestion of his own personality, and it is due to this pervading personal mood or sentiment that The Earthly Paradise has a power to stir the imagination almost wholly lacking to his later work. It cannot be said that even here he is able to awaken a strong emotion. But the human element is felt. A warm intelligence of sympathy creeps in among dreams and shadows, the reader is aware of a living presence near him and responds to the appeal of human weakness and depression. It is because Morris in the languid cadences of The Earthly Paradise spoke with his own voice and took his readers into the confidence of his hopeless thoughts, that the book will remain for the multitude the chief among his works, the only one that portrays for us in its most characteristic form the inmost quality of his temperament. Nor does he seem to have had for any other book of his making quite the intimate affection he so frankly bestowed upon this. The final stanzas in which the well-known message is sent to "my Master, Geoffrey Chaucer," confide the autobiographic vein in which it was written. Says the Book of its maker:

I have beheld him tremble oft enough

At things he could not choose but trust to me,

Although he knew the world was wise and rough:

And never did he fail to let me see

His love,-his folly and faithlessness, maybe;

And still in turn I gave him voice to pray

Such prayers as cling about an empty day.

Thou, keen-eyed, reading me, mayst read him through,

For surely little is there left behind;

No power great deeds unnameable to do;

No knowledge for which words he may not find;

No love of things as vague as autumn wind-

Earth of the earth lies hidden by my clay,

The idle singer of an empty day.

Written at great speed, one day being marked by a product of seven hundred lines, the last of The Earthly Paradise was in the hands of the printers by the end of 1870, and Morris was free for his Icelandic journey and new interests.

Portrait of Edward Burne-Jones

By Watts

He was no sooner home from Iceland than he set to work upon a curious literary experiment-a dramatic poem of very complicated construction, called Love is Enough, or the Freeing of Pharamond: A Morality, the intricate metrical design of which is interestingly explained by Mr. Mackail. Rossetti and Coventry Patmore both spoke in terms of enthusiasm of its unusual beauty. The story is that of a king, Pharamond, who has been gallant on the field and wise on the throne, but is haunted by visions of an ideal love sapping his energy and driving peace from his heart. He deserts his people, and with his henchman, Oliver, wanders through the world until he encounters Azalais, a low-born maiden, who satisfies his dream. He returns to find that his people have become estranged from him and he abdicates at once, to retire into obscurity with his love. There has been an obvious struggle on the part of the poet to obtain a strong emotional effect, and certain passages have indeed the "passionate lyric quality" ascribed to them by Rossetti; but as a drama it hardly carries conviction. The songs written to be sung between the scenes have nevertheless much of the haunting beauty soon to be lost from his work, and of these the following is a felicitous example:

Love is enough: it grew up without heeding

In the days when ye knew not its name nor its measure,

And its leaflets untrodden by the light feet of pleasure

Had no boast of the blossom, no sign of the seeding,

As the morning and evening passed over its treasure.

And what do ye say then?-that Spring long departed

Has brought forth no child to the softness and showers;

That we slept and we dreamed through the Summer of flowers;

We dreamed of the Winter, and waking dead-hearted

Found Winter upon us and waste of dull hours.

Nay, Spring was o'er happy and knew not the reason,

And Summer dreamed sadly, for she thought all was ended

In her fulness of wealth that might not be amended,

But this is the harvest and the garnering season,

And the leaf and the blossom in the ripe fruit are blended.

It sprang without sowing, it grew without heeding,

Ye knew not its name and ye knew not its measure,

Ye noted it not 'mid your hope and your pleasure;

There was pain in its blossom, despair in its seeding,

But daylong your bosom now nurseth its treasure.

Although Morris planned a beautifully decorated edition of the poem which was highly valued by him, its failure to impress itself upon the public was no great grief to him, and he put it cheerfully out of mind to devote himself to translation and to Icelandic literature.

The surprising task to which he first turned was a verse translation of Virgil's ?neid, in which he attempted to give the closest possible rendering of the Latin and to emphasise the romantic side of Virgil's genius. He followed with an almost word-for-word accuracy the lines and periods of the original using, and he threw over the poem a glamour of romance, but Mr. Mackail says truly that he had taken his life in his hands in essaying a classic subject with his inadequate training and unclassic taste. The same authority, who on this subject, certainly, is not to be disputed by the lay reader, considers the result a success from Morris's own point of view, declaring that he "vindicated the claim of the romantic school to a joint ownership with the classicists in the poem which is not only the crowning achievement of classical Latin, but the fountain-head of romanticism in European literature." The opposing critics are fairly represented by Mr. Andrew Lang, who, in this case as in many another, is an ideal intermediary between scholar and general reader.

"There is no more literal verse-translation of any classic poem in English," he says, "but Mr. Morris's manner and method appear to me to be mistaken. Virgil's great charm is his perfection of style and the exquisite harmony of his numbers. These are not represented by the singularly rude measures and archaistic language of Mr. Morris. Like Mr. Morris, Virgil was a learned antiquarian, and perhaps very accomplished scholars may detect traces of voluntary archaism in his language and style. But these, if they exist, certainly do not thrust themselves on the notice of most readers of the ?neid. Mr. Morris's phrases would almost seem uncouth in a rendering of Ennius. For example, take

'manet alta mente repostum

Judicium Paridis, spret?que injuria form?.'

This is rendered in a prose version by a fine and versatile scholar, 'deep in her soul lies stored the judgment of Paris, the insult of her slighted beauty.' Mr. Morris translates:

'her inmost heart still sorely did enfold

That grief of body set at naught by Paris' doomful deed.'

Can anything be much less Virgilian? Is it even intelligible without the Latin? What modern poet would naturally speak of 'grief of body set at naught,' or call the judgment of Paris 'Paris' doomful deed'? Then 'manet alta mente repostum' is strangely rendered by 'her inmost heart still sorely did enfold.' This is an example of the translation at its worst, but defects of the sort illustrated are so common as to leave an impression of wilful ruggedness, and even obscurity, than which what can be less like Virgil? Where Virgil describes the death of Troilus, 'et versa pulvis inscribitus hasta' ('and his reversed spear scores the dust'), Mr. Morris has 'his wrested spear a-writing in the dust,' and Troilus has just been 'a-fleeing weaponless.' Our doomful deed, is that to be a-translating thus is to write with wrested pen, and to give a rendering of Virgil as unsatisfactory as it is technically literal. In short, Mr. Morris's ?neid seems on a par with Mr. Browning's Agamemnon. But this," Mr. Lang is careful to add, "is a purely personal verdict: better scholars and better critics have expressed a far higher opinion of Mr. Morris's translation of Virgil."

Mr. Lang's whimsical despair over the affectations of language which abound in the translation of the ?neid with less pertinence than in many other writings of Morris where also they abound, recalls the remonstrance that Stevenson could not resist writing out in the form of a letter although it was never sent on its mission. Acknowledging his debt to Morris for many "unforgettable poems," the younger writer and more accomplished student of language protests against the indiscriminate use of the word whereas in the translations from the sagas. "For surely, Master," he says, "that tongue that we write, and that you have illustrated so nobly, is yet alive. She has her rights and laws, and is our mother, our queen, and our instrument. Now in that living tongue, where has one sense, whereas another."

The translation of the ?neid was published under the title of The ?neids, in the autumn of 1875. Morris had written a good part of it in the course of his trips back and forth on the Underground Railway, using for these first drafts a stiff-covered copybook, which was his constant companion. In the summer of the same year he had brought out a volume of the translations from the Icelandic which he was making in collaboration with Mr. Magnusson, calling it Three Northern Love-Stories and Other Tales. He had still, he declared "but few converts to Saga-ism," and he regarded his translating from the Icelandic as a pure luxury, adopting it for a Sunday amusement. During the winter of 1875-76, however, he was embarked on a cognate enterprise of the utmost importance to him, although he thought, and with truth, that his public would be indifferent to it. This was the epic poem which he called The Story of Sigurd the Volsung, based on the Volsunga Saga, the story of the great Northern heroes told and re-told from generation to generation, polished and perfected until the final form, in which it preserves the traditions of the people who cherish it, is the noblest attained in the Icelandic legends. Morris had published a prose translation of the saga in 1870, and the following passage from his preface shows how deeply his emotions were stirred by his subject:

"As to the literary quality of this work we might say much," he writes, "but we think we may well trust the reader of poetic insight to break through whatever entanglement of strange manners or unused element may at first trouble him, and to meet the nature and beauty with which it is filled: we cannot doubt that such a reader will be intensely touched by finding amidst all its wildness and remoteness such startling realism, such subtlety, such close sympathy with all the passions that may move himself to-day. In conclusion, we must again say how strange it seems to us, that this Volsung Tale, which is in fact an unversified poem, should never before have been translated into English. For this is the Great Story of the North, which should be to all our race what the tale of Troy was to the Greeks-to all our race first, and afterwards, when the change of the world has made our race nothing more than a name of what has been-a story too-then should it be to those that come after us no less than the Tale of Troy has been to us."

In the course of the following six years, during which he was constantly increasing his intimacy with the literature of the North, an impulse not unlike that which tempted Tennyson toward the Idylls of the King led him to try the winning of a wider audience for the tale of great deeds and elemental passions by which he himself had been so much inspired. In the prose translation he had given the Volsunga Saga to the public as it had been created for an earlier public of more savage tastes and fiercer tendencies. Now he proposed to divest it of some of the childish and ugly details that formed a stumbling block to the modern reader (though plausible and interesting enough to those for whom they were invented), and to add to the "unversified poem" rhyme and metre, emphasising the essential points and such characteristics of the actors as most appealed to him. A comparison of the saga with the poem will show that in his effort to preserve the heroic character of the antique conception by accentuating everything pleasing, leaving out much of the rudeness and cruelty, and adorning it with copious descriptive passages, he robs the story of a great part of the wild life stirring in its ancient forms, and more or less confuses and involves it. The modern poem really requires for its right understanding a mind more instructed in its subject than the prose translation of the old saga, and readers to whom the latter is unfamiliar may find a plain outline of the story not superfluous.

In the translation, the origin of the noble Volsung race, of which Sigurd is the flower and crown, is traced to Sigi, called the son of Odin, and sent out from his father's land for killing a thrall. He is fortunate in war, marries a noble wife, and rules over the land of the Huns. His son is named Rerir. Volsung is the son of Rerir, and thus the great-grandson of Odin himself. He marries the daughter of a giant, and the ten sons and one daughter of this union are strong in sinew and huge in size, the Volsung race having the fame of being "great men and high-minded and far above the most of men both in cunning and in prowess and all things high and mighty." Volsung becomes in his turn king over Hunland, and builds for himself a noble Hall in the centre of which grows an oak-tree whose limbs "blossom fair out over the roof of the hall," and the trunk of which is called Branstock.

The poem opens with the description of a wedding-feast held in this Hall for Signy, King Volsung's daughter, who has been sought in marriage by Siggeir, King of the Goths, a smaller and meaner race than the Volsungs. Signy is not content with her fate, but her father has deemed the match to be a wise one, and, eminent in filial obedience as in all things else, she yields. From this point for some distance saga and poem march together save for certain minor changes intended to increase Signy's charm. During the feasting a one-eyed stranger enters the Hall and thrusts his sword up to its hilt into the tree-trunk, saying that who should draw the sword from the trunk should have it for his own and find it the best he had ever borne in his hand. This, of course, is Odin. Siggeir tries to draw the sword, and after him his nobles, and then the sons of King Volsung, but none succeeds until Sigmund, the twin of Signy, draws it lightly forth as an easy task. Siggeir is wroth and offers to buy the sword for thrice its weight in gold, but Sigmund will not part with it, and Siggeir sets sail for home in dudgeon, though concealing his feelings from the Volsungs and inviting them cordially to visit him in Gothland. Signy reads the future, and implores her father to undo the marriage and let Siggeir depart without her. (In the poem Morris has her offer herself as a sacrifice if her father will but remain in his kingdom and decline Siggeir's invitation.) King Volsung, however, insists on keeping his troth, and Signy and Siggeir depart, followed in due time by King Volsung and his sons and nobles in response to Siggeir's request. What Signy prophesied comes to pass and King Volsung falls at the hands of the Goths while his ten sons are taken captive. Now Signy prays her husband that her brothers be put for a time in the stocks, since home to her mind comes "the saw that says Sweet to eye while seen." Siggeir is delighted to consent though he deems her "mad and witless" to wish longer suffering for her brothers. Here the poem departs from the original in that Morris puts the idea of the stocks into the mind of Siggeir in answer to Signy's suggestion that her brothers be spared for a little time. Sigmund and the rest of the brothers are taken to the wildwood, and a beam is placed on their feet, and night by night for nine nights a she-wolf comes to devour one of them. (In the poem Morris hastens matters somewhat by having two wolves appear each night to despatch the brothers two at a time.) Each morning Signy sends a messenger to the wildwood who brings back the woeful news. Finally she thinks of a ruse, and on the tenth night the messenger is sent to smear the face of Sigmund, now the sole remaining brother, with honey, putting some also into his mouth. When the wolf comes she licks his face, and then puts her tongue into his mouth to get the last delicious drop. Sigmund promptly closes his teeth upon her tongue and in the struggle that ensues Sigmund's bon

ds are burst and the wolf escapes, leaving her tongue between his teeth. This incident was probably not sufficiently heroic to please Morris, and in the poem no mention is made of Signy's clever device, Sigmund gaining his freedom in a more dignified fashion and the details being slurred over lightly, with a vague and general allusion to snapping "with greedy teeth." Sigmund dwells in the wildwood in hiding, and Signy sends to him in turn her two sons by King Siggeir, that he may test their fitness to help avenge the fate of her family. Here again Morris mitigates the stern temper of Signy for a more womanly type. In the saga when Signy finds that the boys are not stout enough of heart to accomplish her purpose she bids Sigmund kill them at once: "Why should such as they live longer?" In the poem, however, when Signy sends her son to Sigmund he is delivered with the diplomatic message that if his heart avail not he may "wend the ways of his fate," and when it is found that his heart does not avail, he is returned in safety to his mother, Sigmund awaiting the slow coming of the competent one.

William Morris

From painting by Watts

The story of the birth of Sinfjotli, in whose veins runs unmixed the blood of the Volsungs, is given a certain dignity not accorded it in Wagner's familiar version of the legend as Mr. Buxton Forman, Morris's most devoted critic, has pointed out, but true to the account in the original saga. The saga is followed, also, in the burning of Siggeir's Hall by Sigmund and Sinfjotli, but the Signy who kisses her brother in "soft and sweet" farewell certainly fails to recall to the mind the vengeful creature of the original. Sigmund returns to the Hall of the Volsungs with Sinfjotli, and marries Borghild. Presently Sinfjotli sails abroad with the brother of Queen Borghild, Gudrod by name, and kills him for reason-as given in the translation-of their rivalry in loving "an exceeding fair woman." In the poem, however, Morris records a shabby trick played upon Sinfjotli by Gudrod in the dividing of their spoils of battle, making this the cause of the duel in which Gudrod was killed. Sinfjotli returns to his home with the news of Gudrod's death, and Borghild in revenge poisons him. Sigmund then sends her away and takes for his wife fair Hiordis, meeting his death at the hand of Odin himself, who appears to him in battle and shatters the sword he had drawn in his youth from the Volsung Branstock. As he lies dying he tells Hiordis that she must take good care of their child, who is to carry on the Volsung tradition, and must guard well the shards of Odin's sword for him. Then comes the carrying away of Hiordis by a sea-king to his kingdom in Denmark, and here ends, rightly speaking, the epic of Sigmund's career, which, as Mr. Mackail has said, is a separate story neither subordinate to nor coherent with the later epic of Sigurd, but which Morris could not forbear uniting to it. Sigurd the Volsung, the golden-haired, the shining one, the symbol of the sun, is born of Hiordis in the home of King Elf, and fostered by Regin, an aged man and "deft in every cunning save the dealings of the sword." When Sigurd has grown to be a boy of high mind and stout heart, Regin urges him to ask of King Elf a horse. This he does, and is sent to choose one for himself. He chooses the best horse in the world and names him, Greyfell in the poem, Grani in the prose. Regin now presses him to attack Fafnir the "ling-worm," or dragon, who guards a vast hoard of treasure in the desert. According to the saga, Sigurd is not ashamed to own to a slight hesitation in attacking a creature of whose size and malignity he has heard much, but in the poem he is ready for the deed, merely hinting that "the wary foot is the surest and the hasty oft turns back." Thereupon follows the tale of the treasure told by Regin with great directness in the prose, and with much circumlocution in the poem.

When Sigurd learns that Fafnir is the brother of Regin, and is keeping him out of his share of treasure belonging to them both, on which, however, a curse is laid, he pities Regin, and promises that if he will make him a sword worthy of the deed he will kill Fafnir for him. This Regin attempts to do and fails until Sigurd brings him the shards of Odin's mighty sword, his inheritance from his father Sigmund. With a sword forged from the shards and named by him "the Wrath," Sigurd sets out on Greyfell, accompanied by Regin, to attack the dragon. The description in the poem of the ride across the desert is rich in the fruits of Morris's own experience, and reflects very closely his impressions of the mournful place of "short-lived eagerness and glory." Sigurd and Regin ride to the westward.

... and huge were the mountains grown

And the floor of heaven was mingled with that tossing world of stone;

And they rode till the moon was forgotten and the sun was waxen low,

And they tarried not though he perished, and the world grew dark below.

Then they rode a mighty desert, a glimmering place and wide,

And into a narrow pass high-walled on either side

By the blackness of the mountains, and barred aback and in face

By the empty night of the shadow; a windless silent place:

But the white moon shone o'erhead mid the small sharp stars and pale,

And each as a man alone they rode on the highway of bale.

So ever they wended upward, and the midnight hour was o'er,

And the stars grew pale and paler, and failed from the heaven's floor,

And the moon was a long while dead, but where was the promise of day?

No change came over the darkness, no streak of the dawning grey;

No sound of the wind's uprising adown the night there ran:

It was blind as the Gaping Gulf ere the first of the worlds began.

The fight with the dragon, the roasting of the dragon's heart, the tasting of the blood by Sigurd, and his instant knowledge of the hearts of men and beasts and of the speech of birds, follow with close adherence of poem to saga, the most marked divergence being the substitution of eagles for the woodpeckers who sing to Sigurd of his future. Through his new accomplishment Sigurd is able to read Regin's heart, and sees therein a traitorous intent, therefore he kills Regin, loads Greyfell with the treasure, and rides to the mountain where Brynhild, the warrior maiden struck with slumber by Odin in punishment for disobedience to him, is lying in her armour guarded by flames. Sigurd wins through the fire, and awakens her, and they hold loving converse together on the mountain, Brynhild teaching him wisdom in runes and in the saga, bringing him beer in a beaker, "the drink of love," although in the poem this hospitable ceremony is omitted. After a time they part, plighting troth, and later, when they meet at the home of Brynhild in Lymdale, they again exchange vows of faith.

Then Sigurd rides to a realm south of the Rhine, where dwell the Niblung brothers with their sister Gudrun and their fierce-hearted mother, Grimhild, who brews for Sigurd a philter that makes him forget the vows he exchanged with Brynhild and become enamoured of Gudrun. Completely under the power of the charm, he weds the latter and undertakes to woo and win Brynhild for her brother Gunnar. This he does by assuming Gunnar's semblance, and riding once more through the fire that guards Brynhild, reminding her of her oath to marry whomever should perform this feat, and returning to his own form after gaining her promise for Gunnar. This ruse is made known to Brynhild (after she has wedded Gunnar) by Gudrun, who is not averse to marring the peace of the greatest of women, and Brynhild makes the air ring with her wailing over the woeful fact that Gudrun has the braver man for her husband. In the saga she is a very outspoken lady and in a wild temper, and even in the poem her grief fails in noble and dignified expression. At her instigation Sigurd is killed by Gunnar and his brethren. The vengeance brings no happiness, however, and Brynhild pierces her breast with a sword that she and Sigurd may lie on one funeral pyre! Lovers of Wagner opera will remember that the story as there told ends with this climax, but Morris carries it on to Gudrun's marriage with King Atli, Brynhild's brother, and to the struggle between him and the Niblungs for the fatal treasure, which results in the murder of the Niblungs (Gudrun's brothers) and the irrevocable loss of the treasure. Although Gudrun has approved Atli's deed, she finds she can no longer abide with him after it has been accomplished, and accordingly sets fire to his house and throws herself into the sea. Morris omits the grewsome incident of the supper prepared for Atli by Gudrun from the roasted hearts of their children whom she had killed, and also leaves out the subsequent account of the bringing ashore of Gudrun and the wedding and slaying of Swanhild, her daughter by Sigurd.

To the poetic and symbolic elements of this strange old saga, Morris has been abundantly sensitive. The curse attending the desire for gold, which is the pointed moral of the saga, is brought out, not dramatically, but by allusions and suggestions, not always apparent at a casual reading. The conception of Sigurd as the sun-god destroying the powers of darkness and illuminating a shadowy world is constantly hinted at, as when he threatens Regin with the light he sheds on good and ill, and when Regin, looking toward him as he sits on Greyfell, sees that the light of his presence blazes as the glory of the sun. The heroism of Sigurd, his r?le as the ideal lover and warrior and spiritual saviour of his race, is perhaps over-emphasised. As King Arthur certainly lost in interest by Tennyson's re-creation of him, so Sigurd is more lovely and fair and golden and glorious in the poem than in the saga, and considerably less human and attractive withal. In fact, none of the characters in the poem-all so intensely alive to Morris himself-lives in quite a like degree for his readers. His power to probe beneath externals and rouse emotions of spiritual force was curiously limited. There are indications in his biography that his business with crafts and "word-spinning," as he called it, served him as a kind of armour, protecting him from the wounds of feelings too poignant to handle freely, too deadly to invite. We read of his agony of apprehension, for example, when in Iceland he did not hear from his home for a considerable period. "Why does not one drop down or faint or do something of that sort when it comes to the uttermost in such matters!" he exclaims. But in his writing it is mainly the surface of the earth and the surface of the mind with which he deals. It is in the nature of his genius, says one of his most accomplished critics, to dispense with those deeper thoughts of life which for Chaucer and for Shakespeare were "the very air breathed by the persons living in their verse." Nevertheless, his service to English literature, in translating the Northern sagas as none but a poet could have translated them, was very great, and his Story of Sigurd is in many respects a splendid performance. In writing it he endeavoured to infuse into his style the energy and passion of the literature from which he drew his material, and to brace it with the sturdy fibre of the Icelandic tongue. His efforts to de-Latinise his sentences had already lent his translations a vigour lacking in his earlier work. He had captured something of the Northern freshness corresponding very truly to his external aspect if not to the workings of his brain. The chief defect from which his story of Sigurd suffers lies in the extreme garrulity of the narrative. A single passage, set by the side of the translation, will suffice to show the manner in which a direct statement is smothered and amplified until the reader's brain is dull with repetition, and the episode or description is extended to three or four times its original length. Thus in the saga we are told that after Sigurd had eaten of the dragon's heart "he leapt on his horse and rode along the trail of the worm Fafnir, and so right unto his abiding-place; and he found it open, and beheld all the doors and the gear of them that they were wrought of iron; yea, and all the beams of the house; and it was dug down deep into the earth: there found Sigurd gold exceeding plenteous, and the sword Rotti; and thence he took the Helm of Awe, and the Gold Byrny, and many things fair and good. So much gold he found there, that he thought verily that scarce might two horses, or three belike, bear it thence. So he took all the gold and laid it in two great chests, and set them on the horse Grani, and took the reins of him, but nowise will he stir, neither will he abide smiting. Then Sigurd knows the mind of the horse, and leaps on the back of him, and smites spurs into him, and off the horse goes even as if he were unladen."

From this comparatively unvarnished tale Morris evolves the following:

Now Sigurd eats of the heart that once in the Dwarf-king lay,

The hoard of the wisdom begrudged, the might of the earlier day.

Then wise of heart was he waxen, but longing in him grew

To sow the seed he had gotten, and till the field he knew.

So he leapeth aback of Greyfell, and rideth the desert bare,

And the hollow slot of Fafnir that led to the Serpent's lair.

Then long he rode adown it, and the ernes flew overhead,

And tidings great and glorious of that Treasure of old they said,

So far o'er the waste he wended, and when the night was come

He saw the earth-old dwelling, the dread Gold-wallowers home.

On the skirts of the Heath it was builded by a tumbled stony bent;

High went that house to the heavens, down 'neath the earth it went,

Of unwrought iron fashioned for the heart of a greedy king:

'Twas a mountain, blind without, and within was its plenishing

But the Hoard of Andvari the ancient, and the sleeping Curse unseen,

The Gold of the Gods that spared not and the greedy that have been.

Through the door strode Sigurd the Volsung, and the grey moon and the sword

Fell in on the tawny gold-heaps of the ancient hapless Hoard:

Gold gear of hosts unburied, and the coin of cities dead,

Great spoil of the ages of battle, lay there on the Serpent's bed:

Huge blocks from mid-earth quarried, where none but the Dwarfs have mined,

Wide sands of the golden rivers no foot of man may find,

Lay 'neath the spoils of the mighty and the ruddy rings of yore:

But amidst was the Helm of Aweing that the Fear of earth-folk bore,

And there gleamed a wonder beside it, the Hauberk all of gold,

Whose like is not in the heavens nor has earth of its fellow told:

There Sigurd seeth moreover Andvari's Ring of Gain,

The hope of Loki's finger, the Ransom's utmost grain;

For it shone on the midmost gold-heap like the first star set in the sky,

In the yellow space of even when the moon-rise draweth anigh.

Then laughed the Son of Sigmund, and stooped to the golden land,

And gathered that first of the harvest and set it on his hand;

And he did on the Helm of Aweing, and the Hauberk all of gold,-

Whose like is not in the heavens nor has earth of its fellow told:

Then he praised the day of the Volsungs amid the yellow light,

And he set his hand to the labour and put forth his kingly might;

He dragged forth gold to the moon, on the desert's face he laid

The innermost earth's adornment, and rings for the nameless made;

He toiled and loaded Greyfell, and the cloudy war-steed shone,

And the gear of Sigurd rattled in the flood of moonlight wan;

There he toiled and loaded Greyfell, and the Volsung's armour rang

'Mid the yellow bed of the Serpent-but without the eagles sang:

"Bind the red rings, O Sigurd! let the gold shine free and clear!

For what hath the Son of the Volsungs the ancient Curse to fear?

"Bind the red rings, O Sigurd! for thy tale is well begun,

And the world shall be good and gladdened by the Gold lit up by the sun.

"Bind the red rings, O Sigurd! and gladden all thine heart!

For the world shall make thee merry ere thou and she depart.

"Bind the red rings, O Sigurd! for the ways go green below,

Go green to the dwelling of Kings, and the halls that the Queen-folk know.

"Bind the red rings, O Sigurd! for what is there bides by the way,

Save the joy of folk to awaken, and the dawn of the merry day?

"Bind the red rings, O Sigurd! for the strife awaits thine hand

And a plenteous war-field's reaping, and the praise of many a land.

"Bind the red rings, O Sigurd! but how shall storehouse hold

That glory of thy winning and the tidings to be told?"

Now the moon was dead and the star-worlds were great on the heavenly plain,

When the steed was fully laden; then Sigurd taketh the rein

And turns to the ruined rock-wall that the lair was built beneath,

For there he deemed was the gate and the door of the Glittering Heath,

But not a whit moved Greyfell for aught that the King might do;

Then Sigurd pondered awhile, till the heart of the beast he knew,

And clad in all his war-gear he leaped to the saddle-stead,

And with pride and mirth neighed Greyfell and tossed aloft his head,

And sprang unspurred o'er the waste, and light and swift he went,

And breasted the broken rampart, the stony tumbled bent;

And over the brow he clomb, and there beyond was the world,

A place of many mountains and great crags together hurled.

So down to the west he wendeth, and goeth swift and light,

And the stars are beginning to wane, and the day is mingled with night;

For full fain was the sun to arise and look on the Gold set free,

And the Dwarf-wrought rings of the Treasure and the gifts from the floor of the sea.

Beautiful and full of poetic spirit and suggestion as this phraseology is, a reader may be forgiven if it recalls the reply of Hamlet when asked by Polonius what it is he reads. Compared with the swift dramatic method employed by Wagner to make the heroes and heroines of this same saga live for our time, it must be admitted that the latter drives home with the greater energy and conviction. Morris himself, however, was "not much interested" in anything Wagner did, looking upon it "as nothing short of desecration to bring such a tremendous and world-wide subject under the gaslights of an opera, the most rococo and degraded of all forms of art."

To the group of translations and adaptations already described must be added one other ambitious effort which belongs to it, properly speaking, although separated from it in time by more than ten years. In 1887 Morris published a translation of the Odyssey, written in anap?stic couplets, and rendered as literally as by the prose crib of which he made frank use. Mr. Watts-Dunton finds in this translation the Homeric eagerness, although the Homeric dignity is lacking. The majority of competent critics were against it, however, nor is a high degree of classical training necessary to perceive in it an incoherence and clumsiness of diction impossible to associate with the lucid images of the Greeks. Compare, for example, Morris's account of the recognition of Ulysses by Argus with Bryant's limpid rendering of the same episode, and the tortured style of the former is obvious at once. Bryant's translation reads:

There lay

Argus, devoured with vermin. As he saw

Ulysses drawing near, he wagged his tail

And dropped his ears, but found that he could come

No nearer to his master. Seeing this

Ulysses wiped away a tear unmark'd

By the good swineherd whom he questioned thus:

"Eum?us, this I marvel at,-this dog

That lies upon the dunghill, beautiful

In form, but whether in the chase as fleet

As he is fairly shaped I cannot tell.

Worthless, perchance, as house-dogs often are

Whose masters keep them for the sake of show."

And thus, Eum?us, thou didst make reply:

"The dog belongs to one who died afar.

Had he the power of limb which once he had

For feats of hunting when Ulysses sailed

For Troy and left him, thou wouldst be amazed

Both at his swiftness and his strength. No beast

In the thick forest depths which once he saw,

Or even tracked by footprints, could escape.

And now he is a sufferer, since his lord

Has perished far from his own land. No more

The careless women heed the creature's wants;

For, when the master is no longer near,

The servants cease from their appointed tasks,

And on the day that one becomes a slave

The Thunderer, Jove takes half his worth away."

He spake, and, entering that fair dwelling-place,

Passed through to where the illustrious suitors sat,

While over Argus the black night of death

Came suddenly as soon as he had seen

Ulysses, absent now for twenty years.

And here is the description by Morris of the infinitely touching scene:

There then did the woodhound Argus all full of ticks abide;

But now so soon as he noted Odysseus drawing anear

He wagged his tail, and fawning he laid down either ear,

But had no might to drag him nigher from where he lay

To his master, who beheld him and wiped a tear away

That he lightly hid from Eum?us, unto whom he spake and said:

"Eum?us, much I marvel at the dog on the dung-heap laid;

Fair-shapen is his body, but nought I know indeed

If unto this his fairness he hath good running speed,

Or is but like unto some-men's table-dogs I mean,

Which but because of their fairness lords cherish to be seen."

Then thou, O swineherd Eum?us, didst speak and answer thus:

"Yea, this is the hound of the man that hath died aloof from us;

And if yet to do and to look on he were even such an one

As Odysseus left behind him when to Troy he gat him gone

Then wouldest thou wonder beholding his speed and hardihood,

For no monster that he followed through the depths of the tangled wood

Would he blench from, and well he wotted of their trail and where it led.

But now ill he hath, since his master in an alien land is dead,

And no care of him have the women, that are heedless here and light;

Since thralls whenso they are missing their masters' rule and might.

No longer are they willing to do the thing that should be;

For Zeus, the loud-voiced, taketh half a man's valiancy

Whenso the day of thralldom hath hold of him at last."

So saying into the homestead of the happy place he passed

And straight to the hall he wended 'mid the Wooers overbold.

But the murky doom of the death-day of Argus now took hold

When he had looked on Odysseus in this the twentieth year.

The decade between the publication of The Earthly Paradise and Sigurd the Volsung had been one of sustained literary effort varied, as we have seen, but hardly interrupted by the work in decoration. The latter Morris called his "bread-and-cheese work," the former his "pleasure work of books." The time had not yet come for a complete union between the two, although it was foreshadowed by the illuminated manuscripts made for friends during these years. A selection from his own poems, a translation of the Eyrbyggja Saga, a copy of Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and the ?neid of Virgil were among the works that Morris undertook to transcribe with his own hand on vellum, with decorative margins with results of great beauty. He had now long been happy in work calling out all this enthusiasm, but the world was going on without, to use his own words, "beautiful and strange and dreadful and worshipful." He was approaching the time when his conscience would no longer let him rest in the thought that he was "not born to set the crooked straight."

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