Black Riders: The Visible Language of Modernism 9780691221465

"English literature," Yeats once noted, "has all but completely shaped itself in the printing press."

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Black Riders: The Visible Language of Modernism

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the Spirit is a bone.—HEGEL

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"et ithir hands shaft net trvt*Mrt their fitt shaft mtfotfrr; r t**tW shaft not we&rf% the/e»r shaft mt afirr -* $?p$ mtd these e$es eftke i&i^d and tht fotw.

The spears flashed by me, and thz ipeam mtpt m An4 in war*» h o p c l ^ tangle wa» I ^0i$n4 But ^traw and stubble wens: the cold i&nnts found, Fm sttil thy handf led down the weary way. Through hall mud street they h4 me i They looked to seg me proud and cold of mkfi» I heeded not though all my tear* were swn, For slill I d reamed of Ihee ihmngho^l 0KS &fcy.

16. William Morris, Love is Enough, proof sheet for aborted edition.



In each of these cases Morris finally decided to publish his poetry without the elaborate decorative features he was experimenting with. The necessary typefaces, to Morris's mind, were simply not there. In any case, as Morris would later observe in his 1893 lecture "The Ideal Book," Whatever the subject-matter of the book may be, and however bare it may be of decoration, it can still be a work of art, if the type be good and attention be paid to its general arrangement.11 Chiswick Press was important for Morris because its work showed that these general principles, so brilliantly inaugurated in the fifteenth century, could still be followed in the nineteenth. Not until 1888, however, four years after Morris began his close connection with the typographer Emery Walker, would a final breakthrough to a great work like Poems by the Way, set in Golden type, become feasible. But if the collaborative Earthly Paradise and Love is Enough were both abandoned, Morris did produce at that time one of his most extraordinary books of poetry, the unique illuminated work he titled simply A Book of Verse (1870). This understated title conceals an important allusion to a text from the first edition of Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat. Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness— And Wilderness is Paradise enow. The allusion is apt for a book which, as Philip Henderson has remarked, was made as "a token of his love for Georgiana BurneJones."12 But personal as this work is—its unique status takes, in this regard, its exact measure—the book equally stands as the first complete example of the poetical ideal Morris was striving after. That is to say, the book has imagined a total integration of all its textual elements. The words and the verse forms, the calligraphy, decorative work, coloring, and page design: all have been imagined collectively together. The verse is by Morris, as is the calligraphy, the general design, and much of the coloring and other decorative work. The title page is therefore properly headed "A Book of Verse/ by/ William Morris/ Written in London/ 1870" and properly carries a



small portrait of Morris. But the portrait was painted by Charles Fairfax Murray "who did all the rest of the pictures, with the exception of the one on page i, which was by Burne-Jones," and George Wardle did some of the ornamental pattern work as well as "all the coloured letters." Morris's collaboration with these men is important to realize because from the outset he "had not intended to do all the work by himself, allocating various parts of it to his friends and fellow-workers, as had been done among medieval craftsmen."13 Cooperative design, in other words, dominates the book from execution to finished product. Like The Defence of Guenevere volume, the poems in A Book of Verse exhibit extreme self-reflection, as the title itself suggests. For this is not simply "a book of verse," it is something far more particular and concrete—A Book of Verse in which those four words, which are separable terms in a purely linguistic grammar, have been imaginatively transformed into a kind of proper noun. This effect is achieved partly through the allusion to the specific phrase in Fitzgerald's poem, and partly through the decision to make the book a unique object. This kind of self-reflexiveness in the title appears throughout the book. In "Rest from Seeking," for example, a "heart that cravest love" is summoned by the textual voice to "come at last to me" (seefig.17). The poem distinctly recalls various religious poems, especially those of Christina Rossetti (for example "Rest," published in 1862 in Goblin Market and Other Poems). But Morris's poem is entirely secular, and it invokes the image of a heavenly rest only to localize it in a purely textual immediacy: Draw nigh, draw nigh beloved! think of these Who stand about, as well-wrought images, Earless and eyeless as the whispering trees.


To this point the poem has supplied no linguistic referents for the pronoun "these." The only figures we have seen to "stand about" this poem are its decorative and calligraphic figurations, here cited—at the linguistic level—as "images." But the word carries a double burden in a highly decorative text like this one, for if it calls our attention to the poem as an artistic and bibliographical composition, it seeks as well a specifically semantic reference in the poem. The wit of this passage is to summon those images to make their semantic



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