Earthly Paradise

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A poem by W. Morris, published 1868–70, consisting of a prologue and 24 tales, in Chaucerian metres.

The prologue tells how a company of Norsemen, fleeing from the pestilence, set sail in search of the fabled Earthly Paradise ‘across the western sea where none grow old’. They are disappointed in their quest and return after long wanderings, ‘shrivelled, bent and grey’, to a ‘nameless city in a distant sea’ where the ancient Greek gods are still worshipped. Twice in each month they meet their hosts at a feast and a tale is told, alternately by one of the elders of the city and one of the wanderers. The tales of the former are on classical subjects, those of the latter from Norse and other medieval subjects. Between the tales are interpolated lyrics describing the changing seasons, and the whole work is prefaced by an Apology which contains some of Morris's best‐known (and in a sense most misleading) lines, in which he describes himself as ‘the idle singer of an empty day’, ‘born out of my due time’.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

William Morris (1834—1896) designer, author, and visionary socialist