Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Sweet Days Die


Maybe I'm a Philistine.
You'd think - since I seriously entertain a belief about a neo-medieval surge and urge in today's fiction - that I would delight in William Morris's poetry.
Morris was associated with the artistic cabal called the Pre-Raphaelites whose paintings I particularly admire. The attached image is Rosssetti's La Pia de Tolommei, and the model is Morris's wife Jane - who was also Rossetti's lover.
Have been reading what used to be archly described as "a slim volume" containing some of Morris's shorter pieces; and, by and large, I think they're crap. Vague and vapid crap at that.
I don't see any of the editor's announcements of "rich in colour and detail, lyrical and dramatic, full of the passion and romance of an earlier chivalric time..."
I see an over use of oratorical personnifications, top-heavy generalizations, and an emotional "depth" I achieved in my teens.
Of course, as the editor loftily point out, Morris may not be appreciated by any of us idle lot not "steeped in the chivalric tradition of Malory and Froissart."
Well, he is decidedly derivative at times.
Nevertheless, now and then, among the "doths", "twixes," and "o'er sweets," a line of verse reaches out and grabs my imagination, like the one which is the title of this post.

27 comments:

Erik Ivan James said...

"The Sweet Days Die."

Carla said...

I confess to never having read any of Morris's poetry, though I do love his textile designs - in fact, I'm embroidering a cushion based on one of his designs as a wedding present for a friend (and hope to get it finished before she gets divorced...).
I have something of the same sort of feeling towards Tennyson's Idylls of the King, which strikees me as a bit cloying, sentimental and moralistic in places. Some of the individual lines sing to me, but I don't warm to the piece as a whole. Wonder if some aspects of high-Victorian taste don't translate all that well into the modern world? What do you think?

December Quinn said...

I don't think I've ever read any of his work (she admits, embarrassed).

I do love it when editors of books take care to point out to the reader that if they don't like the work, it's because they're not smart enough. :rolleyes

M.E Ellis said...

Sorry I'm late but welcome back to blogland!

:o)

Bernita said...

A fin de siecle tone surely, Erik.

He certainly was multi-talented, Carla - the textiles, wallpapers, furniture, calligraphy...
Max Beerbohm is quoted as saying "Of course he was a wonderful all-round man, but the act of walking around him always tired me."
I agree. I find him quite Victorian, especially in his emphasis on hidden decay and death.
Today we are inclined to view that as smugly morbid and without vitality.

No reason to be the slightest bit embarrassed, December. When I think of all the writers I haven't read...
To be fair, I think this editor was merely trying to establish the context of changing tastes. She does say that one of his long pieces, "The Earthly Paradise," contains "a certain monotony."
Oddly enough, his first collection, "The Defence of Guenevere," which aroused little excitement when it was published, is more admired today than his other long narrative poems.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Michelle, who is damn near smothered under a pile of plots, edits and ironing!

kmfrontain said...

"You make the sound of bringing heaven down."

by Justin Furstenfeld from Blue October

Modern poetry from song lyrics: that's about as close to poetry as I usually want to get. ^.~

Ric said...

argh - more poetry to read?
I still haven't worked through the Rod McKuen I got in college

Bernita said...

As far as I'm concerned, Karen, song lyrics are poetry - no matter the separation some English teachers persist in making.

I'm not suggesting you read him, Ric,...in fact, I'd advise against it.
Miss Snark, however, does suggest reading poetry is one of the ways to prevent/recover from burn out/blocks, etc.
I've certainly found it so when inspiration/imagination stutters.

Candice Gilmer said...

I find it interesting that PR people existed even back then... :) Myself, I don't read much poetry, except for the occasional Emily Dickenson -- Something about her poetry always makes me shudder, and that is a good thing.

normiekins said...

tell us how you really feel...."i think they're crap"....LOL....

i've never read Morris but am familiar with his textiles ...

and you're right the verse/title is "deep and rich"

Bernita said...

You can't go wrong with Emily, Candice.
PR people?

Had my husband read them too, Normiekins, and his first words also were "It's crap."
Changing tastes, I guess.

Gabriele C. said...

I admit English poetry is something I should read more but somehow never get to - of course, the lack of books here is one reason. I just want to pick one up, not order it via interlibrary loan and then deal with the pencil notes of translated words some idiot made in the margins.

I read a lot of German poetry, though. :)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

LOL..."...oratorical personnifications..." That phrase sprained my tongue!

I'm with Ric, but I did read the Rod McKuen...sheesh Ric, that's the thinnest book I own!

But I do enjoy visiting peotry vicariously with you Bernita!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

And apparently along with not being able to read poetry, I can't spell it either!

Steve G said...

I have an Uncle named Willam Morris, who does love poetry. But, I also have not read the one you are referring to.

Bernita said...

I have the feeling I should too, Gabriele.
Don't you hate that?
What's worse, I sometimes disagree violently with the notes and have the urge to pencil in rebuttals!

A little declamation goes a long way, Bonnie.
Thank you. A mere typo.

If you ever decide to, Steve,I would suggest you try Morris's explicitly Arthurian poems...I think he does a much better job with those than this collection -

"A-dying mid the autumn scented haze/That hangeth o'er the hollow of the world."
O yuck.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Oh good! I'm glad lyrics are poetry, because I don't typically read any of it.

Though I have memorized "The Emperor of Ice Cream" for some reason...

Call the roller of big cigars,

Okay, I'll stop. But I love that poem. :-)

Rashenbo said...

Love the picture... but I'm about as poetic as a doorknob. Ah look, an example of my excellent metaphor ability, no wait a simile... no no... it must be iambic pentameter (look, I don't even know if I spelled it right). :)

I just don't "get" most poetry. And the poetry I do get is probably pretty simple :)

Bernita said...

Hee, Sonya!

I wionder if that's really true, Rashenbo.
You hear people say they don't get/hate poetry - but they've memorized every word of every song by 15 favourite singers...

kmfrontain said...

"As far as I'm concerned, Karen, song lyrics are poetry - no matter the separation some English teachers persist in making."

That's why I said it was as close as I wanted to get. :-) About the only time I enjoy noticing poetry is while listening to a song. That particular song I quoted from is my current favourite. I love that line. But otherwise, when it's not a well done poetic line in prose fiction, I really don't like reading poetry.

Bernita said...

I understand, Karen.
I was just flogging one of my favourite horses - teachers who manage to screw up enjoyment of the language by their narrow definitions of what's proper and correct.

Julie said...

Ah, sweet Jane Burden Morris. I never did understand the obsession the Pre-Raphaelites had with long necks and unibrows.

Bernita said...

I haven't seen any evidence of unibrows in any of Rossetti's depictions of her, Julie; however, it is plain she had big feet.

Ballpoint Wren said...

You know who else recommends poetry as a way to break through blocks?

Ray Bradbury.

Bernita said...

An excellent authority, Bonnie. Thank you.

Shesawriter said...

I can't read poetry right now or even think about it. I just got finished doing math with my son. My brain hurts.