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In Prison -- William Morris

(Poem #1639) In Prison
 Wearily, drearily,
 Half the day long,
 Flap the great banners
 High over the stone;
 Strangely and eerily
 Sounds the wind's song,
 Bending the banner-poles.

 While, all alone,
 Watching the loophole's spark,
 Lie I, with life all dark,
 Feet tether'd, hands fetter'd
 Fast to the stone,
 The grim walls, square-letter'd
 With prison'd men's groan.

 Still strain the banner-poles
 Through the wind's song,
 Westward the banner rolls
 Over my wrong.
-- William Morris

What fascinated me about today's poem was the interplay between form and
content. The subject material is appropriately sombre - but my first
impression was an almost startled reaction to the bouncily dactylic metre of
the first line[1]. As the poem progresses, there is the continual tension
between the clever, almost playful form and the increasingly grim depiction
of the prison. (Note, in addition to the metre, the beautifully intricate
abcdabe dffgdgd ebeb rhyme scheme, indeed, this is about as complex a rhyme
scheme as I've ever seen in a poem that wasn't adhering to some "named"

That tension is beautifully resolved in the last verse, indeed in the last two
lines - the lines "westward the banner rolls/ over my wrong" have exactly
the air of finality, the implacable ring of a closing door, to cast a
tomblike pall over the rest of the poem, and convey the fact that yes, the
narrator is in prison, and it is indeed a grim fate to befall anyone.


[1] indeed, the rhyming 'wearily, drearily' foreshadows one of my favourite
forms, the decidedly unsolemn double dactyl


Astoundingly, we've run no poems by William Morris, who in addition to being
a delightful poet was an impressive polymath. Here's some biographies:

And a link to some more of his poems:

  [broken link]

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