William Morris

1834-1896

William Morris is buried in St George's churchyard in Kelmscott, Oxfordshire, England. His gravestone was designed by his friend Philip Webb.

William Morris (24 March 1834 3 October 1896) was a brilliant designer, craftsman and political thinker, as well as one of the most popular poets of his day. He was born in Walthamstow and educated at Marlborough and Oxford.

 

William Morris' Grave

William Morris' Grave (Photo by Martin Beek)

 

Kelmscott Church

 

Kelmscott Church (Photo by Martin Beek)

 

At Oxford he began to develop his interest in art and architecture and met his life-long friend, Edward Burne-Jones.  Morris and Burne-Jones moved to London in 1856 and became part of the circle of the Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In 1857, Rossetti was commissioned to supervise decorative work in the new Oxford Union building. He enlisted his friends for this task, and during this period Morris met his future wife, Jane Burden. Morris and Jane married in 1859. Their initial happiness did not last but they remained together until Morris's death. When Jane became involved in a relationship with Rossetti, he and Morris took on the lease of a house at Kelmscott in Oxfordshire, providing a refuge for Jane and the two children, and a place where she and Rossetti could be together away from the public gaze.

Morris was a prolific writer of poetry, fiction and essays. He published six volumes of poetry: The Defence of Guenevere (1858); The Life and Death of Jason (1867); The Earthly Paradise (1868-70); Love is Enough (1873); Sigurd the Volsung (1876); and Poems by the Way (1891). The Earthly Paradise brought him almost immediate fame and popularity.

In the 1870s Morris turned to Northern, particularly Icelandic, sources to find renewed inspiration. He wrote less original poetry but found time to translate the Aeneid, the Odyssey and Beowulf. He was approached with an offer of the Poet Laureateship after the death of Tennyson in 1892, but declined. His novel, The Wood Beyond the World, is considered to have heavily influenced C.S. Lewis' Narnia series. J.R.R. Tolkien was inspired by Morris's reconstructions of early Germanic life in The House of the Wolfings, and James Joyce also drew inspiration from Morris's work.

When he was dying one of his physicians diagnosed his disease as 'simply being William Morris and having done the work of ten men'. In his obituaries he was remembered primarily as a writer and was compared favourably with Tennyson and Browning. Morris was generally reticent on the question of his religious beliefs but there is abundant evidence that he thought of himself as an atheist and regarded Christianity as a beautiful mythology.

(Biographical details written by Angela Williams.)

Ah, what begetteth all this storm of bliss
but Death himself, who crying solemnly,
E'en from the heart of sweet Forgetfulness,
Bids us "Rejoice, lest pleasureless ye die.
Within a little time must ye go by.
Stretch forth your open hands, and while ye live
Take all the gifts that Death and Life may give.

Links:

William Morris Society

 

 


 

 

 
 
 
 

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