illiam Morris creates a female narrator in "The Tune of Seven Towers" who is strangely unreliable and appears conspicuously selfish. Aside from the consistent and rather nebulous refrains, the narrator begins the first half of the poem with third person descriptions of some haunted space. She claims that "white ghosts walk in a row," but that also "none can see them now." For whatever reason, this abandoned battlefield, probably of a castle and its surrounding area, is now haunted, surreally dangerous. Moreover, just as inexplicably, if anyone enters this space, "he must got it all alone" because "its gates will not open to any row / Of glittering spears." Altogether, the narrator describes a rather dangerous place for anyone to enter.
Nonetheless, the narrator asks Oliver, a suitor of hers, to enter this place, for a rather peculiar reason:
By my love go there now,
To fetch me my coif away,
My coif and my kirtle, with pearls arow,
Oliver, go to-day!
'Therefore,' said fair Yoland of the flowers,
'This is the tune of the seven towers.'
Essentially, she entreats Oliver to enter this area in order that he may "fetch" her clothing for her. She gives no descriptions granting any particular importance for her "coif" or "kirtle" or even the "pearls," nor does she give any details of how these items got there in the first place. This is even odder considering how she states earlier in the poem that "no one goes there now," and yet, as far as she is concerned, these items are hers — "my coif," "my kirtle," etc. And yet, despite how dangerous a picture she's painted of this place in the previous four stanzas, she's entirely willing to send Oliver out to get her stuff for her. She says, after this entreaty, that, should he go, she'll "pray" that he "may not die," and if he'll "go for me now," she'll "kiss" his "mouth at last." So apparently, Oliver is a fairly new suitor, or at least a rather unsuccessful one up until this point. Overall, Morris creates a bizarre portrait of a woman who, without any more substantial details given, strikes the reader as unreliable, rather selfish, and most likely downright unreasonable as well.
1. How does the refrain affect the poem's meaning?
2. Why are there seven towers? How does this compare to other examples of the word seven by other Pre-Raphaelites? (For example: the line in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's poem, "The Blessed Damozel": "And the stars in her hair were seven.")
3. Morris's narrator shifts from third person description to second person entreaties in the poem. How objective are these initial descriptions? Does this shift in person coincide with a shift in mood?
4. Can we believe at face value the statement: "I am unhappy now; / I cannot tell you why"?
5. Why does Morris use the older English inflexion in the line "She sayeth inwardly," when he doesn't use these inflexions during other parts of the poem?
Last modified 11 November 2004