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The stylized medievalism of William Morris's The Defence of Guenevere, and Other Poems (1858)—often expressed in cryptically condensed and iterative ballad stanzas—appears to reflect asocial and escapist nostalgia. Memory, however, is politicized in the Chants for Socialists that Morris wrote during the 1880s and early 1890s. These poems' conventional and repetitive forms underscore the communal nature of identity, and their commemoration of the dead awakens activist fervor. Yet readings of two representative poems reveal vital continuities between Morris's early and late poetry; after all, the Chants are also at times nostalgic in their admiration of pre-capitalist communities and their urge to cultivate imaginative solidarity with past eras. And paradoxically, in The Defence of Guenevere, self-justifying poetic beauty that uses retrospection to resist the demands of an industrializing society can itself lay claim to political utility.


Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry

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Open Access Journal Article

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Open Access