Poems by the Way

Supplementary Materials: Criticism
Morris, May. Intro. to volume 9, The Collected Works of William Morris, ed. May Morris. London: Longmans, 1911, 270-273.

Love is Enough is here followed by the volume first published in the Kelmscott Press as Poems by the Way (October 1891). It is aptly described by its title. The pieces in it were collected from various sources and are of very different periods and moods; some are lyrics from discarded unfinished narrative poems of quite early times; some were written “by the way,” as a distraction in the midst of more important productions, while some, in later days, were “made to order” for Socialist needs, and one or two turned out in that easy way the poet had at times, literally to lengthen the volume.

In getting the book together he was very much helped by Mr. Murray, who had preserved a number of unpublished poems of early date (a few of which are included), and who also had kept a record of those that had appeared separately in periodicals from time to time.

I put down a few notes of where and when the poems first appeared; not that I have anything very new to state about them, but it is convenient to have the list in this volume, and I believe I have traced home a few among those of which the sources are not quite obvious. The first poem, “From the Upland to the Sea,” is a song from the unpublished Earthly Paradise story of “Orpheus.” “Echoes of Love’s House” and “Spring’s Bedfellow” were first written on both sides of one foolscap leaf. The copies that went to the printers are in a beautiful Italian hand, similar to that of the facsimile of Lancelot in this volume, and are dated respectively March 10th and March 8th 1873. “Error and Loss” appeared in the Fortnightly for February 1, 1871, as “The Dark Wood;” under the title of “Missing” it is written out in the Book of Verse belonging to Lady Burne-Jones, where many of the poems that make up the volume are found.

“The Hall and the Wood” was written for the English Illustrated Magazine (February 1890) at the request of Emery Walker, who was then one of the editors.

“The Days of Days” appears in Time for 1890 (p. 1178). “To the Muse of the North” was written first as an introduction to the Grettir Saga.

“Of the Three Seekers” was written in 1872, and was printed in To-day, January 1884. Just now and then—but too seldom—the poet carefully signed a set of verses, and this is inscribed “W.M., Kelmscott, Aug. 5th 1872.” In a draft copy, which presents considerable variations, some of them of importance, it is called “Three Houses.”

“Love’s Gleaning-tide,” published in the Athenæum April 1874 (p. 492), he rescued from the fragment of a poem in dramatic form, written about 1872.

“The Message of the March Wind” came out in the second number of the Commonweal, March 1885, and “A Death Song,” written for a special occasion, was first printed in a four page sheet with a drawing by Walter Crane and music by Malcolm Lawson. It then appeared in the Commonweal, November 23, 1889 (No. 202).

“The Raven and the King’s Daughter” is signed W.M. August 1872. This and the other Northern ballads and translations are all of the early seventies. “Meeting in Winter” is also from “Orpheus.” It was charmingly illustrated in the Book of Verse and printed in the English Illustrated for March 1884.

“The God of the Poor” (quite an early piece of writing, smoothed and altered in the reprint) “was written about the same time as the First Prologue for the Earthly Paradise (that in four line verse) and was written in the same MS. book. It was not published till some years later when Mr. Morris was solicited to send something to the Fortnightly (August 1868) and found this to his hand.”*

*C. Fairfax Murray.


“The Two Sides of the River” and “On the Edge of the Wilderness” were first published in the Fortnightly Review respectively October 1868 and April 1869. “The Two Sides of the River” is from the draft of “The Man Who Never Laughed Again” that was rejected. It is the first poem in the Book of Verse, and is graced by a beautiful moonlight picture by Burne-Jones. “Love Fulfilled” is the next poem in that volume, with a delicate little miniature by C.F. Murray. The lovely lyric from the fourth book of Jason is printed as “A Garden by the Sea.” It was a favourite with the poet himself; he has it in the Book of Verse with a picture of a dream-like charm by Mr. Murray and then takes it up again in these later days, having made changes in some of the lines, which should be noted. “The Folk-mote by the River” is a late poem, as is also “Thunder in the Garden.”

“Mother and Son” and “The Half of Life Gone” are reprinted from the Commonweal (1885, vol. I, p. 44, and January 18, 1886, p. 4). They are the only two portions of the continuation of the “Message of the March Wind” that he thought worth rescuing from magazine-oblivion.

“The Voice of Toil” appeared in Justice April 5, 1884, and is there headed “Chants for Socialists, No. II.” “The Day is Coming,” printed in wrapper for the Democratic Federation as “Chants for Socialists, No. I,” is referred to by Justice, March 29, 1884, as just out.

“Earth the Healer, Earth the Keeper,” and “The Folk-mote by the River” are recent. “Pain and Time Strive Not” and “The End of May” are in Earthly Paradise sriting and on the paper used then—about 1870; “Love’s Reward” a year or two later.

“Drawing near the Light” appeared without a title in the Commonweal, April 21, 1888.

“All for the Cause,” appeared in Justice, April 19, 1884. “Mine and Thine,” which also appeared in the Commonweal, March 2, 1889 (No. 164, p. 67), was written down after a lecture my father gave on the “Fourteenth Century” at the little meeting-hall at Kelmscott House. This was done during the discussion after the lecture—a pretty and profitable way of passing the time!

Some of the verses written for pictures, tapestries and embroidery were printed in various exhibition catalogues, etc., and “The Seasons” appeared in the Academy, February 1, 1871, with a variant of the verse for Winter:

Ah! shall Winter mend your case?
Set your teeth the wind to face;
Beat the snow, tread down the frost!
All is gained when all is lost.

In the volume containing all these poems Mr. Ellis, to whom they belonged, placed together two copies of “Hafbur and Signy;” one—“translated from the Danish (by poor little me)”—is signed Feb. 3rd 1870, the second winds up “that’s all: Feb. 4th 1870. W.M.”

“Goldilocks and Goldilocks” dropped off the end of his pen in this way: during the printing of Poems by the Way Emery Walker went in to my father’s study and heard that the volume was all set up and only made so many pages; it was too thin, and Father a little bothered; he thought they “could not charge two guineas for that.” They parted and Walker came in to dinner the same night, and afterwards my father said: “Now I’ll read you what I’ve written to fill out the book,” and forthwith chanted this pretty fairy-poem of nearly 700 lines to his wondering and amused crony.