n "Two Red Roses Across the Moon", William Morris revives the medieval romance. At the poem's start, a golden knight on his way to battle hears a lady singing the phrase, "two red roses across the moon." But the knight must remain faithful to his duty, and he rides by without stopping — for "the battle was set, / and the scarlet and blue had got to be met". The poem concludes as the knight triumphantly returns to his lady, thus fulfilling his obligations both as a knight and as a lover. The poem idealizes the medieval romance by establishing a perfect atmosphere for a perfect love: spring has begun, the chivalrous knight has found a beautiful lady, and the two lovers are granted a happy ending.
Under the may she stoop'd to the crown,
All was gold, there was nothing of brown;
And the horns blaw up in the hall at noon,
Two red roses across the moon.
The concept of a song — one involving red roses and the moon — creates a romantic atmosphere that pervades the poem's entirety. As seen in the stanza above, the poem's format reflects this theme of perfect love: the aabb rhyme scheme gives the poem a song-like quality that is reinforced by the repetition of "two red roses across the moon" concluding each stanza. This repetition unifies the poem, producing a sense of balance and harmony that is emphasized as various figures take turns singing the poem's refrain. In the first three stanzas, the lady sings, "two red roses across the moon", while in the fourth stanza, the line is simply stated by the narrator, and in the next three stanzas, the knight sings it either alone or with his fellow knights. The eighth stanza deviates as the line is not sung this time — instead, it serves as a metaphor for the lady's lips, which appear like two red roses across her face, almost as though she has become the physical embodiment of her song. In the final stanza, the line is once again sung, this time by horns.
As in most medieval romances, the lady is a static figure, while the knight controls the poem's action. The opening lines of the first two stanzas highlight this opposition. The first stanza begins, "There was a lady lived in a hall," indicating the lady's place as an imprisoned woman figure. The second stanza, in clear contrast, begins, "There was a knight came riding by". The knight has the power to pass by the lady, the knight goes off to battle, and the knight finally returns — the power lies with him. But perhaps the lady is not entirely disempowered, for her song captivates his attention during the battle. He repeats her lines while he fights, and he returns to her hall at the end of the poem. The lady's song, whose power draws the knight back to her hall, may even represent artistic inspiration, irresistibly summoning the knight, or the artist, like an obsession.
Reminiscent of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood paintings, Morris uses color strikingly in this poem. The recurring image is that of bright red roses. The knight's armor is golden, like that of the sun at noon, and the knight's opponents on the battlefield wear scarlet and blue. This vibrancy illuminates Morris's yearning for and idealization of the romantic, medieval past.
1. The word "noon" appears 10 times throughout the poem. What is the significance of noon, or the height of daylight, versus the recurring image of the moon? Also, the first time the knight rides by the lady's hall, "the roads were dry;" yet the second time he rides to the hall, at which point he stops to go inside, it is raining. How do these contrasts relate?
2. The narrator speaks in the first person only once during the poem, when he begins the eighth stanza, "I trow". What is the place of the narrator in this poem?
3. Unlike most Pre-Raphaelite works, which often focus on tragic love, this poem has a happy ending in which the lovers are reunited. Could this poem be read as a criticism of the Pre-Raphaelite fixation on tragic love stories?
4. How does the lady of this poem compare to the Pre-Raphaelite images of the contemplative woman? How does she compare to femme fatale figures?
5. How does this poem relate to Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott"?
Last modified 9 November 2004