In Prison

It’s taken me a bit longer than I had anticipated to write another post; I would say that I have been busy doing Important Things, but, sadly, that is mostly untrue. Instead, I have been enjoying the freedom that comes with uni holidays, such as having a Star Wars marathon – although one could class that as an Important Thing. Regardless, the Dear Reader is not here to draw tidbits about my life from this blog, and so I shall Get On With It, much as Ruskin would have advised me (although, against his advice, I still shall not raise a statue to the goddess of Getting On With It). In Prison is another grand Victorian poem, written by William Morris.

Morris, I should say, was a bit of an important fellow in the Victorian age; Morris was an avid writer, and some of his fairy tale-ish novels inspired Tolkien and others. Additionally, Morris wrote a large number of mediaeval style poetry, influenced by Arthurian legend; for example, it is from Morris’ famous poem of Lancelot that we gain “My strength is as the strength of ten for my heart is pure.” As an odd aside, however, Morris was also a social activist and hugely influential on the revival of traditional British textile work – which seems to be a bit out of the blue, given what else he is known for.

In Prison, I sadly say, is not Morris’ best poem. I’m unsure to what poem that honour would go, though my heart insists that Shameful Death should be, since it is such an awesome poem. Nevertheless, I chose In Prison because of the great rhythm, ending, and sounds of the poem.

The first stanza flows brilliantly; the rhythm is kept up naturally and easily, and, if I may say, is one of the simplest yet most effectively done rhythm I have seen. The image, also, of the banners flapping over the castle is simple and nice, and the opening line hammers into one the ponderous boredom and length of the day. The second stanza is decent; I enjoy the description of the “loophole’s spark” bringing to mind the darkness and isolation of the prison, that this is the only light here, fiery amongst the impenetrable blackness. Additionally, the alliteration of

Feet tether’d, hands fetter’d
Fast to the stone,
The grim walls, square-letter’d

is well done. The sound keeps up the steady rhythm, and emphasises the oppression of the prison. I enjoy it.

The last stanza, though is my favourite (it always seems the last stanza is my favourite…). The first two lines conjure up a beautiful image, of the banners flapping as the wind roars around it. Perhaps it is just me, but these lines always remind of the film The Two Towers, where Eowyn stands at entrance to Edoras, and the banner flies above, before tearing off and flying down to Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, whom she watches as they approach. But the last two lines are the real gem of the poem, and, indeed, why I chose it; the lines support the image in the first half of the stanza, bringing it to a strong conclusion of the banners billowing. First, the almost-wistful way the line begins “Westward” and flows through an easy line, that rolls of one’s tongue as the banner itself rolls and billows in the wind. Then, the final, haunting line: “Over my wrong.” The shortness of the line, while maintaining the meter, still rolls of the tongue as it finishes, forcing the reader to ponder the narrator’s suffering in prison. The line, also, seems to draw to a soft close, impressing the reader with despair, and, combined with the description of the banner, leaves an awful image of how close freedom seems, of the wind and free sky where the banner roams.

Lastly, I enjoy the way Morris never tells why the narrator languishes in prison. Simply through the description, the agony of the cell, and the wistful way the narrator seems to watch the tiresome banners blow so close, Morris leaves us with the impression that the narrator is good, and does not deserve to suffer imprisonment, though the reader is never told whether this really is the case.

So, that’s In Prison; as I said, it is not the greatest poem ever written, nor is it my favourite of Morris’ poems. Yet, in its simplicity, the poem has an extremely well done meter, and the sounds of the language used fits together perfectly, forming this tired and wistful image of the imprisoned fellow. It’s quite a lovely poem, and I hope the reader enjoys it as much as I do!

PS. I’m afraid there’s no picture this time, since I couldn’t find a good one that fit the theme. It was very sad, since I had the perfect painting in mind, but couldn’t remember the artist nor the painting’s title, so I was heartbroken. Hope the Dear Reader doesn’t mind a tiring, pictureless post!

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