Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day/William Morris
We suppose that nobody will deny that the author of 'The Earthly Paradise' has earned the right to be numbered among English poets. Whether his place is above or below Swinburne it is difficult to decide, as opinions differ very much as to the merits of Mr. Swinburne's poems. The style of Mr. Morris's verses is quite as good as that of Mr. Swinburne's, and he has the farther advantage of being pure in tone, while he is classical in theme.
The first work of his to attract attention in a considerable degree was 'The Life and Death of Jason,' a long poem, divided into sixteen books. As its title imports, it is founded on the adventures of the hero Jason, son of Æson, king of lolchos, whose romantic pursuit of the golden fleece, and love affairs with Medea and Glaucé, have formed the base of so many poetic edifices. 'The Earthly Paradise,' Mr. Morris's chief work, has, although published at intervals and of great length, already become popular. On this work his claim to the fame of a poet must rest; and the very favourable reception the poem has met with will warrant the author in assuming that he is a poet of considerable pretensions to a fellowship with Tennyson and Browning.
We shall not try to review such a voluminous poem as 'The Earthly Paradise' at length; and we shall therefore content ourselves with stating that, to people who have a taste for a poem in four or five volumes, the perusal of 'The Earthly Paradise' will give great pleasure and some profit. The argument of the prologue is, 'Certain gentlemen and mariners of Norway, having considered all that they had heard of the Earthly Paradise, set sail to find it; and after many troubles, and the lapse of many years, came old men to some western land of which they had never before heard. There they died, when they had dwelt there certain years, much honoured of the strange people.'That such a theme gives a fine opportunity to a discursive poet is patent,
THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
and Mr. Morris has made good use of it. Many subjects are treated in the prologue, and perhaps it is as good as anything in the poem. A general lack of purpose will strike the reader; but for this they were prepared by the author in his introduction, where he says:
Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due time,
Why should I strive to set the crooked straight!
Let it suffice me that my running rhyme
Beats with light ring against the ivory gate,
Telling a tale, not too importunate,
To those who in the sleepy region stay,
Lull'd by the singer of an empty day.
If ye will read aright, and pardon me,
Who strive to build a shadowy isle of bliss
Midmost the beating of the steely sea,
Where toss'd about all hearts of men must be;
Whose ravening monsters mighty men shall slay,
Not the poor singer of an empty day.