In a local secondhand bookshop a few years back I picked up a quaint little volume (which I have mentioned in this blog before) in the ‘King’s Treasuries of Literature’ series general-edited by Sir Arthur Quiller Couch. First published in 1922, it is titled: Atalanta’s Race and Two Other Tales from ‘The Earthly Paradise’. At the back of the book, after the three tales, we are offered a brief ‘Appreciation by Alfred Noyes’ and, more surprisingly, the text of Morris’s prose story ‘Svend and his Brethren’ from the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine.
Why the ‘Svend’ story, then? Well, first, ‘it is given here for purposes of literary comparison with the foregoing verse romances from the Earthly Paradise’. All well and good: let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth. But then, second and much more intriguingly, ‘it is suggested that the reader should attempt the rendering of portions of it into one or other of the poetic forms represented in the three verse stories of this collection’ (p.169). The question of why one should want to perform this curious creative writing exercise is never addressed, but it is surely a lovely idea none the less.
To rewrite one of Morris’s works in the style of another, just for the hell of it! To an extent Morris himself did something like this, of course, since May Morris notes that he would occasionally write a particular story first as prose and then, not liking that version, as poetry – or vice versa. We might regard such stylistic rewritings as a kind of five-finger exercise that any keen Morrisian ought to chance his or her arm at now and again. So, just to start the ball rolling, I offer my own (very crude) version of the first chapter of News from Nowhere rewritten in something like the forceful anapaestic manner of Sigurd the Volsung. Comments – or improvements – would be very welcome:
At the League one sullen evening, great debate there gan to flare,
On the Morrow of Revolution, and the days that are fairer than fair;
And as Anarchists rant onwards, representing different schools,
Silent William broke amongst them, damning all the rest for fools.
As he wends his iron way homewards and stews in the vapour-bath,
‘If I could but see the future!’ he cries, and his great heart laughs.
Ugly bridge upon the river, young moon tangled in the sky,
Swirling waters up to Chiswick, as the hot debate goes by.
And as William lies to slumber loss and doubt come to the fore,
But he shapes them to a story, and they fall back to the floor.
Clock strikes three and he is sleeping, and now time begins to shift,
As the dark past gins to loosen, the claws of Capital to lift.
He awoke and tossed the bed-clothes, dazzled in the gleaming sun;
For the past was rent asunder, the days of Nowhere had begun.