The poem Morris wrote after the publication of the final volume of The Earthly Paradise in 1870 was his most formally complex work, Love is Enough. He returned in early September 1871 from his first visit to Iceland, and on 2 October Rossetti wrote to their friend the artist William Bell Scott:
Morris has set to work with a will on a sort of masque called ‘Love is Enough’, which he means to print as a moderate quarto, with woodcuts by Ned Jones and borders by himself, some of which he has done very beautifully. The poem is, I think, at a higher point of execution than anything he has done, -- having a passionate lyric quality such as one found in his earlier poems, and of course much more balance in carrying out. It will be a very fine work. 1
Burne-Jones himself wrote enthusiastically in the same month in a letter to the American scholar C.E. Norton, quoted by Georgiana Burne-Jones in her biography of her husband:
He makes a poem these days - in dismal Queen Square in black old filthy London in dull end of October he makes a pretty poem that is to be wondrously happy; AND IT HAS FOUR SETS OF LOVERS IN IT AND THEY ARE ALL HAPPY and it ends well, and will come out some time next summer - such is Top in these days. 2
The idea of an illustrated Love is Enough excited both Morris and Edward: one full-page design was completed and some smaller ones begun, as well as several borders that Morris drew and engraved himself - but there were so many difficulties in the whole scheme that it had to be laid aside for that time, and the poem appeared without any ornament towards the end of 1872. Five and twenty years later it was re-published as the last volume from the Kelmscott Press, with Edward’s original illustration and another that he made freshly for it. 3
Morris himself told Norton on 19 October that he had returned from Iceland much strengthened in spirit
and set to work at once on a new poem (which has nothing whatever to do with Iceland) You will see it some day I hope with illustrations by Ned thereto -- we are both very much excited about it. 4
He must have made rapid progress with the poem, as on 23 October he is recorded by Bell Scott as reading out passages from it at a dinner party at Queen Square.5
After this, however, Morris experienced difficulties in the writing, as on 13 February 1872 he wrote to his sister-in-law Louisa Baldwin:
... I have been in trouble with my own work, which I couldn’t make to march for a long time; but I think I have now brought it out of the maze of rewriting and despondency, though it is not exactly finished... 6
On 8 October, he was able to tell Aglaia Coronio that he had received the final proofs of the book and that it would be published in November: ‘it will be but a little book, under 140 p.p.’ 7 It was published on 20 November by F. S. Ellis, confusingly dated 1873. Morris sent a copy to his mother on 24 November, remarking ‘There is a review in today’s Athenaeum, which you will like to see.’ 8
Love is Enough, or The Freeing of Pharamond: a Morality by William Morris, the title of the first and the Kelmscott Press editions, opens, like a play, with a list of the Dramatis Personae; unusually, however, this includes the people who will comprise the audience for the play, the ‘peasant-folk’ Giles and Joan, the Mayor, and the Emperor and Empress, before we come to the characters in the inset play itself. Morris then provides an introductory Argument, as for the stories in the Earthly Paradise, giving a brief account of what is to follow:
This story, which is told by way of a morality set before an Emperor and Empress newly wedded, showeth of a King, whom nothing but Love might satisfy, who left all to seek Love, and, having found it, found this also, that he had enough, though he lacked all else.
It is useful to bear this summary in mind as the reader encounters what turns out to be formally a very complex poem, in which we do not begin with the play, but with the crowd gathering in ‘the streets of a great town’ to see it. Giles holds his wife Joan up to give her a better view, and their conversation conveys their excitement. These simple characters speak in octosyllabic couplets -- lines of eight syllables with a simple rhyme -- and using a simple vocabulary. This is the first of the five verse forms employed by Morris in this complex poem. It has evidently been chosen for the vigour and directness of its short rhyming lines.
This passage is followed by the first of eight lyrical passages entitled The Music, which is sung as the Emperor and Empress appear before their people. This is a much more sophisticated poetic form, consisting of one nine-line stanza of rhymed dactylics -- metrical feet consisting of one accented syllable followed by two unaccented ones. It is printed in italics, and takes the reader onto another, more philosophical, plane; it flows from the opening assertion ‘Love is enough’, through a sombre account of the declining of the world, to a triumphant conclusion:
Yet their hands shall not tremble, their feet shall not falter,
The void shall not weary, the fear shall not alter
These lips and these eyes of the loved and the lover.
The contrast between the world and the higher value of love is the basic idea expressed here.
Next the Emperor and Empress appear, and they are given a mode of speech fitting their elevated rank, thus introducing a third poetic form They address each other in alternate four-line stanzas, the first three lines of which consist of decasyllabic triplets -- ten-syllable rhyming lines -- while the fourth line rhymes with the fourth line of the succeeding stanza, thus linking the two speakers elegantly together as they meditate on the significance of love and marriage.
Next appears a stage direction, telling us we are in the crowd in another part of the street, near the stage where the play will be performed. Giles and Joan find a good place from which to watch, but first the Mayor makes a speech to the Emperor and Empress, offering them the play, which he modestly calls ‘A thing little splendid’. For the Mayor’s speech, Morris uses a fourth form, based on alliteration. As alliteration was the basic structural device in much early English literature, it is particularly appropriate in a poem taking us back to the medieval era. Joseph Phelan has recently described it as 'an extraordinary experiment in the application of the principles of alliterative verse to modern English poetry.'9 Once again, Morris shows his remarkable command of varying poetic modes. The Emperor thanks the Mayor, this time speaking in rhymed decasyllabic (ten-syllable) couplets, and asks the Empress whether she thinks watching the play will shorten the hours before they can be alone together; she graciously agrees that it will. The reader expects the play to commence, but in this slow-moving work there are three interpolations before that happens. Firstly, The Music is heard as ‘the singers enter and stand before the curtain, the player-king and player-maiden in the midst’. This time The Music consists of six five-line stanzas, beginning, as throughout the poem, with the words ‘Love is enough’. The opening stanza speaks of pain and sorrow, but there is a gradual development towards hope, culminating in the final stanza with its effective natural imagery:
Ah, what shall we say then, but that earth threatened often
Shall live on for ever that such things may be,
That the dry seed shall quicken, the hard earth shall soften,
And the spring-bearing birds flutter north o’er the sea,
That earth’s garden may bloom round my love’s feet and me?
After conversation with the Empress, in ten-syllable couplets, the Emperor concludes the scene with a comment on what they expect to see:
Behold, she goes, and he too, turning round,
Remembers that his love must yet be found,
That he is King and loveless in this story
Wrought long ago for some dead poet’s glory.
The actors, it seems, will have an important part to play in reanimating the old story and taking the King from lovelessness to love. The final introductory element is provided by the figure of Love himself, entering in front of the curtain and ‘crowned as a King’ to address the audience in rhyming ten-syllable couplets which give a dignified effect. Love makes reference to famous romantic stories of both the classical world and and the Nordic world in which Morris was becoming increasingly interested. The experience of love may involve suffering, but on this occasion Love promises his audience something more pastoral and less tragic:
Rather caught up at hazard is the pipe
That mixed with scent of roses overripe,
And murmur of the summer afternoon,
May charm you somewhat with its wavering tune
’Twixt joy and sadness: whatso’er it saith,
I know at least there breathes through it my breath.
The reader must expect a complex emotional experience, but will be reassured by knowing that love is the motivating force of the story about to begin.
At this point, the heading OF PHARAMOND THE FREED appears in capital letters, followed by the stage direction ‘In the King’s Chamber of Audience’. So we have at last reached the play that lies at the heart of the poem. The story is taken from The Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh tales compiled in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and concerns a king who gives up his kingdom for love. In The Mabinogion the story is called ‘The Dream of Maxen Wledig’ and the action involves much fighting, but Morris eliminates this element and renames the characters; Mackail comments that ‘Pharamond and Azalais -- Teutonic names made musical by the speech of Central or Southern France -- carry the mind back to some dim Merovingian epoch in which the ox-wagons of Frankish kings rolled through the mountain gorges of Auverne and the vineyards of Burgundy’.10
This gives a wonderful sense of the imaginative world into which readers find themselves led. In the opening scene we find the chief advisor Master Oliver and many councillors discussing the illness of the king, who has not responded to any effort of his courtiers to bring him back to health. The reader might expect the characters in the play to speak in blank verse, the form used by Shakespeare and the other Elizabethan dramatists with such success. But Morris wants to suggest an earlier world, and so chooses a form used in pre-Elizabethan English drama, following on from the earlier speech of the Mayor. It is a line with four stresses and a varying number of unstressed syllables, without rhyme, and having a rest or caesura usually half-way through the line; there is also some alliteration. Thus the scene opens with a question from one of the councillors:
Fair Master Oliver, thou who at all times,
Mayst open thy heart to our lord and master,
Tell us what tidings thou hast to deliver...
In the first line, the stress falls on ‘Fair’, ‘Oliver’, ‘thou’, and ‘all’, with a pause in the middle indicated by the comma; in the second, the stress falls on ‘Mayst’, ‘heart’, ‘lord’, and the first syllable of ‘Ma(ster)’, with a natural pause after ‘heart’; and in the third ‘Tell’, ‘ti(dings)’, ‘hast’, and ‘(de)liver’ receive the stress, with a pause after ‘tidings’. The overall effect of this, together with the simple choice of vocabulary, is to move the action on in a direct manner without rhetoric. The dialogue thus contrasts with the more elevated tone of Love’s speeches and The Music.
In the play, Pharamond calls on Oliver to come with him and help him to find an opening in ‘the clouds that cling round me’. The Music is then heard, in four five-line stanzas, asserting the cycle of the seasons and ending positively with the coming of the ‘treasure’. Love appears again before the curtain ‘clad as an image -maker’. Love can take many forms, and images may point the way towards the truth of the human condition. The language used has a biblical ring to it. The king must ‘save his soul alive’ by sacrificing everything that is valued by the world. The next, longer, scene takes place in the King’s Garden, with the faithful Oliver attempting to find a way to help his sovereign. The King speaks eloquently of a dream he has had for the last five years, of a northern landscape in which he had seen a vision of ‘the unknown desire’ of his soul ‘wrought in shape of a woman.’ In a beautiful passage he celebrates her as his young twin-sister, and describes the moment when she disappeared from his sight and he found himself back in the world of battles. Pharamond is now determined to go to seek her, and Oliver will arrange the journey. Pharamond’s concluding speech is addressed to his beloved, telling her to expect him very soon.
The Music then makes itself heard again, now in four six-line stanzas - Morris is consistently inventive in his handling of this mode. Love is again contrasted with worldly success, and the song ends on a defiant note addressed to the world: ‘-- Pass by me, I hearken, and think of you not!’ When Love appears again before the curtain he is ‘clad as maker of Pictured Cloths’, furnishing further relevant images relating to love, and ending with a warning against Pride and Vain-desire, described as the ‘counterfeits and foes’ of love; they offer a spurious version of it that the true lover must learn to be wary of. Now a stage direction reads: ‘Scene: In a Forest among the hills of a Foreign Land’. Pharamond and Oliver have set out on their travels to seek the beloved but Pharamond has been ill, and they seem to be lost in a ‘wild wood’. Oliver encourages Pharamond to remember their setting out together in search of the beloved, and of the ‘sweet dream’ that he had had of her, but an exhausted Pharamond admits that his hopes seem to be failing, and that death seems about to claim him.
We have reached a point when either a tragic or a happy ending to the story seems equally possible. The Music, this time in six five-line stanzas, tells of a struggle with the Shadow of Night. The protagonist feels that he has lost the struggle, but it is ‘the Shadow of Night and not Love has departed’, and so he survives , though sore and weary, to continue in his search for love. The song becomes increasingly confident, with reference to ‘a land where Love is the light and the lord’, and ends with the assertion that ‘My Lord goeth forth now, and know me for his.’ But fulfilment is still in the future. When Love appears before the curtain this time it is ‘with a cup of bitter drink and his hands bloody’. He expresses sorrow for the sufferings he has inflicted on Pharamond; loving offers no easy path. The next scene takes place in the same valley, but it is now shrouded in mist, suggesting uncertainty. Pharamond is weaker than when last seen, and falls asleep, after addressing Oliver as a man expecting to die. Then the mist begins to dissolve, and Oliver thinks of going to ask help from the ‘simple people’ of the valley - such people are usually virtuous in Morris’s writings. The faithful Oliver calls on God to keep the King in ‘body and soul’. The Music, in three six-line stanzas, continues its assertion that ‘Love is enough’ and urges the listener to seek it before it is too late. References to the cycle of nature encourage belief in the possibility of fulfilment, though again the need for courage and determination is asserted:
And dead pain ye shall trample,
dead fruitless desire,
As ye wend to pluck out the new world from the fire.
Now Love appears ‘clad as a Pilgrim’, a guise suggesting purposeful activity. He speaks of Pharamond’s plight, telling the beloved woman to whom his words are addressed to be patient; the path to be taken by the lover is not easy, but its demands give it its high value. He draws attention to Pharamond as he lies asleep and to the woman with her ‘yearning heart’ wishing to come to him. They need help, and the pilgrim Love will bring it. The curtain then rises, showing Pharamond as he was last seen, sleeping, with the mist clearing -- a positive sign to which Love draws attention. His tone becomes celebratory:
See, at my feet lies Pharamond the Freed!
A happy journey have we gone indeed!
He concludes by apologising to the Beloved for having let the story emerge so slowly, and says that he will stay to encourage Pharamond and ‘somewhat of his welfare teach’.
As the next scene opens ‘Love goes on stage and stands at Pharamond’s head’. Morris has made a bold and dramatic move: Love, who has previously been a commentator on the action from the outside, now becomes a significant part of the action. Love addresses Pharamond, and they converse in single unrhyming lines. At first Pharamond thinks that he is encountering Death, but Love tells him that he has ‘another name’: ‘I am Love and thy master’. He encourages Pharamond to live ‘in this fair world’, and brings Music for him to hear; this reminds Pharamond of the ‘sweet strain’ he had heard in his dreams. He is being led back into life, as the Music moves into words in a new and elegant stanza form. The Music comes nearer and nearer in the next three increasingly romantic stanzas, taking us from dawn to dusk, and culminating in supplication:
Hold, silence, love, speak not of the sweet day departed
Cling close to me, love me, lest I waken sad-hearted!
O kind day, O dear day, short day, come again!
Love casts a final blessing on the still sleeping king, and leaves him. Now at last it is that Azalais, the beloved, makes her first appearance. She addresses Pharamond at dignified length, waiting patiently by his bedside. Eventually she touches him, and finally brings herself to kiss him -- a kind of Briar Rose story in reverse. He awakens, and thinks first of ‘death and deliverance’. But Azalais assures him: ‘we die not’. The scene concludes tenderly:
King Pharamond: Let us speak, love, together some word of our story,
That our lips as they part may remember the glory.
Azalais: O love, kiss me into silence lest no word avail me:
Stay my head with thy bosom lest breath and life fail me.
At last they are together in full mutuality. Mackail write finely of this scene that here ‘the dialogue-meter, without a check, becomes, for two couplets, the rhymed dactylic metre of the Music, as though the lovers, in the exaltation of their meeting, had for a moment become one with the central harmony of things.’11The Music, following, takes the form of three weighty and authoritative eight-line stanzas. It offers a summarising account of the action of the play we have witnessed, associating it with the cycle of the seasons and concluding with the assertion that there can be ‘no fear of returning’ to the loveless world from which Pharamond has emerged.
Perhaps we might expect the poem to end here. But the quest has not been completed: the idea of power has to be exorcised. Love again appears before the curtain and takes on again the role of commentator, still clad as a Pilgrim to indicate that the story is not over. He indicates that Oliver had wanted to know what had happened to the land Pharamond had once ruled, and that Pharamond had agreed to return there with him. Indeed, it seems that Pharamond still has dreams of resuming his rule while remaining fulfilled in love with Azalais. But this is a delusion, as is shown in the next scene, outside the palace in the country Pharamond had formerly ruled. Pharamond and Oliver talk, and the King realises that he had paid too high price a for being a ruler; they must leave the kingdom. When Oliver asks in what land they are to live, Pharamond replies:
In the land where my love our returning abideth,
The poor land and kingless of the shepherding people,
There is peace there, and all things this land is unlike to.
As often in Morris’s writings pastoral simplicity is seen as superior to kingly splendour. When Oliver leaves to make arrangements for the journey, Pharamond pays tribute to his loyalty, which he sees as a form of love. As he longs to return to Azalais, a trumpet sounds, causing him to remember his days as a fighter; he feels compassion for his former self. Now he sees King Theobald and his advisor Honorius come back from the hunt with a crowd of their people. He accepts that the new King and his advisor are likely to rule justly; he does not wish to reclaim the throne. His days of warfare are over. He is ‘freed’ for a new kind of life.
The Music is then heard in five six-line stanzas of increasing confidence. In defiance of the World and the difficulties of the way, the value of Love is asserted: ‘“Love, lead us home!”’ Pain, fear and change cannot be avoided, but they are offset by ‘the kissed lips of Love’. The final stanza begins with questions but modifies into assertion:
Here is the House of Fulfilment of Craving;
Here is the cup with the roses around it;
The World’s Wound well healed, and the balm
that hath bound it:
Cry out! for he heedeth, fair Love that led home.
Love enters again before the curtain, this time ‘holding a crown and palm-branch’, emblems of fulfilment.
His final speech occupies nearly six pages, and suggests that even Love cannot offer a simple solution to the problems of life. The past had included suffering, which cannot be totally avoided, but which can be of two types, of Heaven or of Hell. The heavenly form takes place under a particular sign related to the cycle of the season evoked earlier in the poem:
The sign of Earth, its sorrow and its bliss,
Waxing and waning, steadfastness and change;
Too full of life that I should think it strange
Though death hang over it; too sure to die
But I must deem its resurrection nigh.12
Not that this resurrection is offered in simple terms; it is likely to involve complexities and trials. However, if faith can be maintained, the reward will come.
The true lovers have built with their ‘care and pain’. The house into which they must enter is not yet complete, but the lovers can help to complete it, and then time will be ‘no more’.
The play is over, but not the poem. The reader is led from this elevated plane back to the simple people whose conversation started it all. Joan is sad that the play has ended, but Giles assures her that they will be able to remember it later, and perhaps meet the actors then. Both have been moved by the old story, in which they have found evidence of ‘the fairness of the world’. The ceremonies are not yet over. The Mayor makes a humble speech to the Emperor and Empress, saying that his actors do not know how to improve on the old story, and rejoicing that the Emperor and Empress have found the love that Pharamond was seeking. The Emperor replies politely; he and the Empress will not forget the story of Pharamond the Freed.
The last words go to Giles and Joan. Giles say he would like to see Pharamond and Azalais again, but when Joan says that this is impossible, he reveals that he was thinking of the two actors, whom he had met the previous autumn. Joan agrees that it would be a ‘great joy’ to entertain the actors, who are deeply in love with each other - another level on which the power of love is being demonstrated. Giles describes the future visit with relish. There will still be challenges ahead in life, but now they will return home together in harmony. Joan has the final speech, celebrating the beauty of their pastoral world and envisaging the moonlight and the approach of dawn:
O Love, go with us as we go,
And from the might of thy fair hand
Cast wide about the blooming land
The seed of such-like tales as this!
O Day, change round about our bliss,
Come restful night, when day is done!
Come, dawn, and bring a fairer one!
In this positive pastoral spirit the poem ends. It links appropriately with the world of the shepherds to which Pharamond has said he will go to live with Azalais.
As readers, we have had a far more complex and demanding experience than was suggested by Burne-Jones’s naive comment on the poem quoted earlier, but we have been led to a positive conclusion. Morris conveys his awareness of the difficulties of loving, but suggests that these can be overcome.
This Introduction is offered in the simplest terms which the poem allows. It is to be hoped that many readers will want to consider the poem more deeply, in which case the critical articles cited in the Supplementary Materials section will prove illuminating. When it was first published, Love is Enough received some favourable reviews, but never achieved anything like the public success of The Earthly Paradise. Mackail tells us that Morris accepted the poem’s lack of acclaim ‘with perfect equanimity. It was a thing he had done to please himself, and he did not expect it to please other people to anything like the same degree’.13 His next ambitious poem was to be the fruit of his admiration for the Icelandic sagas, The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Nibelungs, published in 1876.
We can readily see that the sentiment expressed in the title of the poem might seem inadequate to Morris when he later became so involved in social and political activism. We are told by Halliday Sparling, who was briefly married to May Morris and worked for Morris at the Kelmscott Press, that on one occasion he energetically repudiated it:
On one occasion, talking about the deeper things with J. H. Middleton and others, he electrified those present by snatching down the volume from his bookshelves, rapping upon it with a paper-knife, pointing to its title, and exclaiming: “There’s a lie for you, though ’twas I that told it! Love isn’t enough by itself; love and work, yes! Work and love, that’s the life of a man! Why, a fellow can’t even love decently unless he’s got work to do, and pulls his weight in the boat!”14
Looking back in similar vein in 1936, George Bernard Shaw found that the title ‘repeated that irritating nineteenth-century cliche “love is enough” (which is not its moral)’ and was objectionable to ‘anyone who had just read Marx and was raging for justice, not for love. And this must have been the reaction that carried Morris from Pharamond to John Ball.’ 15 However, these sentiments lay well in the future when Morris published his remarkable and complex poem in 1872.
Fiona MacCarthy, in her 1996 biography William Morris: A Life for our Time, records that William Poel’s English Stage Society introduced ‘the masque and the mystery’ to London audiences after the First World War, and that ‘In 1920 Love Is Enough received what was apparently its first stage production, by the Hon. Sybil Amherst, at the Ethical Church in Queen’s Road, Bayswater, in a double bill with an episode from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part III.’ (p.325) It would be interesting to know how that production was received, and whether there have been any subsequent productions.
1. Quoted in J.W. Mackail, The Life of William Morris, 1899; London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1922, I, 288; subsequently cited as Mackail.
2. Georgiana Burne-Jones, Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, 1904; London, Lund Humphries, 1993, II, 23; subsequently cited as Memorials.
3. Memorials, II, 24.
4. Norman Kelvin, editor, The Collected Letters of William Morris, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 4 vols., 1984-96, I, 153. Subsequently cited as Kelvin.
5. Nicholas Salmon, with Derek Baker, The William Morris Chronology, Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1996, p.60.
6. Kelvin, I, 155.
7. Kelvin, I, 165. Note 2 gives an account of the abandoned idea for an illustrated edition of the poem.
8. Kelvin, I, 171.
9. Joseph Phelan, The Music of Verse. Metrical Experiment in Nineteenth-Century Poetry, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, p. 110.
10. Mackail, I, 295.
11. Mackail, I, 291.
12. Mackail, 1, 294.
13. Halliday Sparling, The Kelmscott Press and William Morris Master Craftsman, Macmillan 1924; Folkestone: Wm. Dawson and Sons, 1975, p.10.
14. May Morris, editor, William Morris: Artist Writer, Socialist, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1936, II, xxxvii.
15. Fiona MacCarthy, William Morris: A Life for Our Time, London: Faber & Faber, 1996, p.325.