Thursday, 24 March 2016

William Morris (24/3/1854 -3/10/1896) - No Master / All for the Cause

William Morris was an English textile designer, artist, writer and revolutionary socialist and political agitator associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts movement born on this day in 1854.
His aim was not only to create beautiful things but also a beautiful  society. He became an important figure in the emergence of socialism in Britain, founding the Socialist League in 1884, active in promoting its cause  through  his writing and lecturing on street corners. Throughout  his life  he continued  to identify  with the revolutionary left. He was heartened  by the Labour  movements break with liberalism,  but he warned, perhaps more clearly than anyone else at the time  of the dangers of reformism. Right up to his death in  1896 he was agitating and arguing  for a socialist movement that  would change the world  by open revolt. He also embraced radical ideas  of sexual freedom and libertarianism. There is a strong libertarian temper in his writings and being a close friend of Peter Kropotkin ( eminent anarchist at the time) was well aware of the anarchist case against government and political authority. 
 In 1885 he bought out his Chants for Socialism which the following two  poems are drawn from. In his novel News from Nowhere (1890) he recorded his own idiosyncratic vision after the abolition of classes. In it he envisages a society of equality and freedom. Such a vision - a rational grounded utopia , apparently so distant to us - is precisely what is needed for us today. 
An interesting  passionate and varied life, he hated the age he lived, its commerce, its poverty, its industry, but most of all he hated its individualistic, selfish system of values. At the end of his life  he explained.

"The study of history and the love and practice of art forced me into a hatred of  the civilisation which, if things were to stop as they are  would turn history into inconsequent nonsense, and make art a collection  of the curiosities of the past."  

His words still have powerful resonance in our own turbulent times.

No Master  

Saith man to man, We've heard and known
  That we no master need
To live upon this earth, our own,
  In fair and  mainly deed,
The grief of slaves long passed away
  For us hath forged the chain,
Till now  each worker's patient day
  Builds up the House of Pain.

And we, shall we too, crouch and quall.
  Ashamed, afraid of strife,
And lest our lives untimely fail
  Embrace the Death in Life?
Nay, cry aloud, and have no fear,
  We few against the world;
Awake, arise! the hope we bear
  Against the curse is hurled.

It grows and grows - are we the same,
  The feeble hand,  the few?
Or, what are these with  eyes aflame,
  and hands to deal and do?
This is the lost  that bears the word,
A lightning flame, a shearing sword,
  A storm to overthrow.

All For The Cause

Hear a word, a word in season, for the day is drawing
When  the Cause shall call upon us, some to live, and some
       to die!

He that dies shall not die lonely, many an one hath gone
He that lives shall bear no burden  heavier than the life they

Nothing ancient in their story, w'en but yesterday they bled,
Youngest they of earth's beloved, last of the valiant dead.

E'en the tidings we are telling was the tale they had to tell,
E'en the hope that our hearts cherish, was the hope for
      which they fell.

In the grave where tyrants thrust them, lies their labour
     and  their pain,
But undying from their sorrow springeth up the hope again.

Mourn not  therefore, nor lament it, that the world outlives
        their life;
Voice and vision yet they give us, making among our hands
        for strife.

Some had name, and fame, and humour,  learn'd they were,
       and wise and strong;
Some were nameless, poor, unletterred, weak in all but grief
        and wrong.

Named and nameless, all live in us; ne and all they had
      us yet
Every pain to count for nothing every sorrow to forget.

Hearken how they cry, "O happy, happy ye were
In the sad slow night's departing, is the rising of the morn.

"Fair the crown the Cause hath for you, well to die or well
      to live
Through the battle, through the tangle, peace to gain or
      peace to give."

Ah, it may be! Oft mescemeth, in the days that yet shall be,
When no slave of gold abideth 'twist the breadth of sea to

Oft, when men and maids are merry, ere the sunlight leaves
        the earth,
And they bless the day, beloved, all too short for all their

Some pause awhile and ponder on the bitter days of
Ere the toil of strife and battle overththrew the curse of gold;

Then 'twist lips  of loved and lover solemn thoughts of us
      shall rise;
We who were once fools and dreamers, then shall  be the leave and wise.

There amidst the world new-builded shall our earthly deeds
Through our names be all forgotten, and the tale of how we

Life or death then, who shall heed it, what we gain or what
        we lose?
Fair flies life amid the struggle, and the Cause for each shall

Hear a word, a word in season, for the day is drawing nigh,
When the Cause hall call upon  us, some to live, and some
        to die!

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