Jehane, the heroine of William Morris's "Golden Wings," lives in a land whose serenity and colorful freshness seem incongruous with the loneliness inside her. Lovers walk past with hands entwined, fruit ripens and shines on shady boughs, but she can take no pleasure from any of it, standing always apart and praying for her love to find her. And so long as her patience lasts, the kingdom seems to run in perfect order, with neither a tear shed nor a sword unsheathed, and even the swans need not devour the water-weeds. But as soon as Jehane decides no longer to wait, but rather to seek out her love — Arthur, perhaps, who grows old in Avalon — the idyllic kingdom disintegrates. Jehane dies, presumably by her own hand, and on finding her body her peers panic.
Axes to the apple-trees,
Axes to the aspens tall!
Barriers without the wall
May be lightly made of these . . .
The apples now grow green and sour
Upon the mouldering castle-wall,
Before they ripen there they fall
There seems a need to defend against some invader, yet in its very defense the kingdom destroys itself. And the threat that they fear comes from Jehane's very act of defiance. Her decision not to wait for love and solace, but to seek them through death, calls into question the perfection of the standard of love that pervades the kingdom. Previously, though removed from it, she longed for that kind of love with which such ones as Miles and Giles and their sweethearts were content. Now that she has rebelled and striven after a different kind of love in a different way, the peace and order crumble. Yet Jehane seems finally to have found peace and order. She has longed for golden wings to come to her, but she herself gains them as she faces the sun and her new hope. For only so long could she remain as the fifth swan, the mateless one, she who tarries on the pond with ones unlike herself. Such a life is not for her:
"I cannot stay here all alone,
Or meet their happy faces here,
And wretchedly I have no fear;
A little while, and I am gone
She sheds her faith in the pleasures of life and the satisfaction of life's loves, and she invests her hope in the otherworldly. In her misery and loneliness she had demonstrated to all the very blissfulness of life — for that must be very good from which one is miserable to be apart. Yet when she abandons it for a happiness of her own, life has no longer a standard by which to prove its worth, and so grows sour.
1. In Jehane's song we find a number of mysterious images, especially of colors and animals: "the red bill'd moorhen dips," "I sit on a purple bed," "the wasp, caught by the fangs, / Dies in the autumn night," etc. What can such descriptions be said to symbolize?
2. The final image — "a slain man's stiffen'd feet" in "the rotten leaky boat" — is a rather ambiguous one, both opposing the lack of bloodshed at the beginning of the poem, and paralleling the dead Jehane lying on the beach. What is meant by ending the poem with this image?/p>
3. The castle setting at once suggests an Arthurian atmosphere quite fitting with the theme of courtly love. Yet at the beginning of the poem it is also quite strange to find a castle — symbolic of defense in warfare — in a land so characterized by peace. What does this setting contribute to the poem? Can one find in this an allegory of love in the Middle Ages, or of the modern man's love for the Middle Ages?/p>
4. Morris experiments with different rhyme schemes in his poems. Here, each of the many stanzas is quite short and very self-contained, with the rhyme scheme ABBA. How does the choice of rhyme and meter influence the mood or the narrative flow of the poem?
Last modified 1 April 2009