[Pollen, John H.]. "The Defence of Guenevere." Tablet 19 (Apr. 1858), 266.


There are peculiarities both of thought and style in this volume which will not escape hostile criticism, but, in our judgment, it contains ample proof of the author’s title to the privileges of a poet.

Now, the poet has this right, that, in consideration of the gift of poetry that he has received, and which he spends for our benefit, we must simply accept him as he essentially is, and forbear from requiring him to be something wholly different. We may reject his claims to the poet’s wreath, or, granting that, we may point out faults and blemishes, the absence of which would be desirable. But our objections must not go to the very root and being of his nature and inspiration, for, had such objections prevailed, we should have been without his poem.

The dedication (‘to my friend Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter, I dedicate these poems’) suggests already the Pre-Rafaelite [sic] sympathies of the author, and the book itself fully establishes them.

The ‘conscientious rendering of the actual,’ in its minutest details, is observed not only in the description of gestures, attitudes, features, and garments, so that many passages read like descriptions of a Pre-Rafaelite [sic] picture, but the same ‘fidelity to nature’ is preserved in the language of the interlocutors (almost all the poems are in the first person singular), and we are free to admit that the result is in some few instances unsatisfactory. But The Defence of Guenevere and other Poems (as a statistical fact we may note that the ‘Defence’ is one poem out of thirty, and 17 pages out of 248), are poetry beyond all question, and we must e’en take them and be glad, for without their faults they would probably not have been in being. There is a grand roll in many of the verses, and a fine swing, which more than redeems a few bald lines and some which halt considerably; and if here and there the close copy of nature degenerates into caricature, in very many more instances the homely diction and quaint simplicity of the style not only satisfy the ear, but stir the heart.

Few volumes have been published of late years containing more passages which haunt the memory and constrain the tongue to unconscious repetition of them after one reading.

The first four poems are legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. We pass over ‘Guenevere’ and ‘Lancelot’ for ‘Sir Galahad, a Christmas Mystery.’

[narrates the story, with quotations]

‘The Chapel in Lyoness’ is the legend of Sir Ozana le Cure Hardy–

Ozana of the hardy heart

Knight of the Table Round,

Pray for his soul, Lords, of your part,

A good knight he was found.

It is very beautiful, and not unworthy of the companionship of Tennyson’s ‘Morte d’Arthur’ and ‘Sir Galahad.’

The longest poem in the book is a drama, ‘Sir Peter Harpdon’s End.’

[narrates the story, with quotations]

‘Rapunzel’ and her golden hair will be a stumbling-block to those who did not know her in their nursery days, or who have not read her authentic history told by the Brothers Grimm.

There are many of the ballads in this book that must be set to music. On the eve of Crecy, Sir Lambert de Bois, a poverty-stricken knight, sings of Marguerite, and of the wealth tomorrow’s fight may bring him by the ransom of the knights he means to overthrow:–

Gold on her head, and gold on her feet,

And gold where the hems of her kirtle meet,

And a golden girdle round my sweet,

Ah! qu’elle est belle La Marguerite.

‘The Judgment of God’ is in a very different strain:–

‘Swerve to the left, Son Roger’, he said,

‘When you catch his eyes through the helmet-slit,

‘Swerve to the left, then out at his head,

‘And the Lord God give you joy of it.’

Truly a grim ballad!

There is amazing variety in this volume, but there is power everywhere, whether the poet recounts ancient legends or sings of knightly deeds, whether he deals with mystery or magic, love and joy, or sorrow and despair. We have quoted from it too largely, yet some of the best remains unnoticed. ‘Golden Wings,’ and ‘Shameful Death,’ and ‘The Sailing of the Sword,’ are favourites, but we must conclude with ‘The Haystack in the Floods.’ A terrible story, but Mr. Morris is frightfully in earnest.

[quotes and narrates the story]

This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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