William Morris' poem "Golden Wings" tells of a garden where various heroes and heroines lived, including Miles, Giles, Sir Gervaise, Ellayne le Violet, Mary, Constance fille de fay, Isabeau, Alice of Morris' "Blue Closet", and Jehane du Castel beau of "The Haystack in the Floods". The castle seems to be a utopia, knowing "little war" and lushly described as a beautiful place with apples, green moss, wood carvings, a painted drawbridge with gilded chains, swans, pleasant breezes: "'Twas pleasant' as a Provence rose". They all wore garlands and garments of scarlet and white roses, but Jehane took little pleasure in her clothes and surroundings. Not weeping, but only standing faithfully at the boat, she waited for her lover to join her. Thinking that perhaps she should send a token, she sang a song, and then ran to her room to await her love. As she waited, she sang another song, pleading

Gold wings across the sea!
Grey light from tree to tree,
Gold hair beside my knee,
I pray thee come to me,
Gold wings!

Still no one came, though she waited through the entire night. Broken-hearted, she decided she could not remain among the happy faces of her comrades, and takes a great sword down to the lawn. Declaring

"I meet him; if ten years go by
     Before I meet him; if, indeed,
     Meanwhile both soul and body bleed,
Yet there is end of misery,

"And I have hope. He could not come,
     But I can go to him and show
     These new things I have got to know,
And make him speak, who has been dumb."

She kills herself as the sun rises. The others awake and search for her; finally, Gervaise finds her slain, with the sword beside her. The men swear vengeance, they shed blood, and the castle within the walled garden exists as a utopia no longer.

Questions

1. For a person to kill herself because she cannot be with her loved one has often been considered tragically romantic. Did Morris consider this to be romantic or foolhardy?

2. What symbolism might the poem contain? Specifically, Morris mentions the apples, banners, swans, and boat when describing the castle after it has fallen. Why did he choose these particulars to describe?

3. Jehane du Castel beau and Alice are both from two of Morris' other poems. Why did he include them in this poem? Why did he choose not to include some other heroic figures from his other poems, such as Sir Hugh from "A Shameful Death"?


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Last modified 9 November 2004