William Morris's "Praise of My Lady"
William Morris (1834-1896) was probably one of the most influential men in the Victorian Era. A designer, writer, book printer, and a committed Socialist, much of his work helped shape Victorian England and continues, still nowadays, to be thoroughly studied. However, having carried out notable work in a wide selection of disciplines, some of the poems in his first poetry volume, The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858), have often been neglected by scholars. “Praise of My Lady” is one of the poems in the volume and, when considered, it has often been labelled as escapist and thought to have no meaning beyond the plain description of a lady. This dissertation, however, is an attempt to show that there is yet more to the poem “Praise of My Lady” than mere escapism and the desire to create a fantasy world. The detailed description of the lady is consistently intertwined with Morris’s love for the medieval world and strongly driven by the devotion he felt for his wife-to-be. In this light, it is suggested that, although by means of the poem Morris did actually intend to turn Jane Burden into a suitable damsel for his medieval fantasy world, this intention was, to a certain extent a way of excusing and justifying the circumstances in which he found himself during their relationship. Love is therefore one of the central themes of the poem and it could be considered one of the driving forces that commanded Morris’s life. Additionally, the poem may be understood as an anticipation of the bigger project to which Morris would commit himself for the rest of his life: the endeavour to return to a society similar to the one of his beloved and highly idealised Middle Ages. Essential to the attempted return to the Middle Ages is, indeed, a representation of love tightly connected to Courtly Love, which Morris certainly succeeded in portraying. “Praise of My Lady” is, therefore, not only the embodiment of Morris’s dreams, but an active pursuit of relief and the manifestation of the alienation produced by Victorian society.