William Morris's "Two Red Roses Across the Moon" shares a similar medieval romantic theme with Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "The Staff and the Scrip." Both poems present a lady, "slim and tall," who lives alone — Morris's lady sings "from noon to noon" while Rossetti's queen sits "idle by her loom . . . And looked up sadly: through the room" (lines 21-23). The lady in Morris's poem embodies the idea of the maiden wasting away in a tower and waiting for a rescuer. The requisite knight also appears in each; however, his presence in "Two Red Roses Across the Moon" differs and thus changes the direction of the poem. Morris's knight comes riding by and hears the lady singing; however, he chooses not to stop and "rode a-gallop past the hall; And left that lady singing at noon" (lines 10-11). Reminiscent of the "Lady of Shalott," the knight continues on his way to battle while the lady's songs remain unanswered. He does not receive the lady's blessing before the battle against the red and blue ensues. The poet utilizes sparse detail to set the battle scene, describing the victorious gold cutting through "the huddled spears of the scarlet and blue" (line 26). He does not describe the army of other knights nor any other action in much detail, instead he uses the colors to symbolize their collective mass. Only after this battle does the knight ride past the hall and encounter the lady. Again, even his victory seems to differ from the traditional tragic ending of many of these poems where the lady's faithful knight dies in battle and she resigns herself to mourn.

Discussion Questions

1. The refrain "Two red roses across the moon" repeats after each stanza, followed by an exclaimation in the middle 6th and 7th stanzas. In almost all instances, the refrain seems to be spoken, whether it be sung or cried, as in these cases:

And ever she sung from noon to noon,
Two red roses across the moon. [lines 3-4]

And he said to himself, as it near'd the noon,
Two red roses across the moon. [lines 19-20]

And they cried, as they cut them down at the noon,
Two red roses across the moon! [lines 27-28]

What do the two red roses symbolize? Traditionally the red rose symbolizes romantic love. Could they represent the lady and the knight? Why are the roses described as "across the moon"?

2. At the end of "Two Red Roses Across the Moon" the knight rides past the hall again, although weary and "draggled sore with rain." The last stanza describes the lady's actions:

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.

Does this passage clearly point to a happy ending? Do the crown, gold and the sounding of the horns add to this? How romantic and chivalric does their love appear to be?

3. In "Two Red Roses Across the Moon" Morris writes with simplicity, describing any detail or action in a concise yet effective manner. How does this style work with the theme of the poem? How would more detail or use of flowery language affect this theme? Would it make the relationship between the lady and the knight more believable? And does the lack of verbal interaction between the two signify anything?


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Last modified 10 November 2004