Jane Morris, Professional Muse

LaDonnadellaFinestrabannerThe first lines of any description of Jane Burden Morris describe her as a muse to important men. Well, yes. Her dark, sad beauty managed to catch the eye of Burne-Jones and Rossetti, a fortuitous constellation of genes and environment that gained her entry into a circle of men who would change the direction of fine and decorative arts for the next 150 years.

Jane was the daughter of a stable hand and her mother was illiterate. She was destined for domestic service.  Yet when Morris decided to marry Jane, she hesitated, but as Rossetti was in a committed relationship with Lizzie Siddal, and having few options at the ripe age of 18, she relented. And William was a nice man. As Jane was uneducated, Morris paid to have her educated as a fine lady, a process that took a year, giving him time to build Red House. Jane mastered her “file lady” lessons to the point that she came to be, as the years progressed, referred to as “queenly”.

Mistress of Red House

red_house_wellWhy did Morris decide to marry Jane? Projection onto the dark beauty certainly, but she was not unintelligent. She taught herself French, Italian, and a smattering of Latin, raised two children and managed a large household (while maintaining a torrid love affair with a man who can hardly be described as low maintenance), was a loyal friend if not a loyal lover to a man was passionate about everything, whose interests were many, and for whom the term “overachiever” pales. Jane played hostess to her husband’s friends and some of the greatest mind of her age.

Jane loved her children dearly. She did not love Morris, but didn’t say so until he was gone, even to friends. Their daughter, May, was an expert at embroidery, a skill she learned from her mother.

Left: Daisy wall hanging for Red House, embroidered by Jane.  The subsequent Daisy patterns in tile and fabric took this as their inspiration.

Right: Detail from the bed covering for Morris’s bed, embroidered by Jane and May Morris.

Detail from an embroidery of William Blake’s Tyger Tyger from the Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

The Muse, and oh yes, The Adulteress

A woman in her early 20’s.  One man loves her, but romance is not his strong suit.  The other, a man 9 years her senior, see a goddess and an inspiration.  An understandable choice, and one she eventually came to regret.

Left: Morris, Queen Guinevere.  Right: Rossetti, Proserpina.

This, though, is how I think she would like to be remembered:


Jane and May Morris.

Note: This is an expanded version of text from my website: William Morris Tile





Fathers and Daughters: The Birthdays of William and May Morris

As a father’s daughter and lover of all things William Morris, I have a special appreciation for the relationship of William Morris and his daughter, May.

May Morris Flower Pot on cream background

May Morris Flower Pot Tile

On March 25, 1862, the 28 year-old William Morris received his best birthday present ever: the bird of his youngest daughter, Mary, always called May. May was close to her father most of her life — joining him in his Socialist League activities, and as Director of Embroidery at Morris & Co..

Maybe we can’t help but disappoint those who love us most.  In William Morris’s final years, he and May became estranged; there are many letters to his older daughter Jenny during this period, but none to May.  May was married to a socialist of whom her mother disapproved, but carried on a several year long affair with George Bernard Shaw, her father’s friend.  How painful it must have been for him to witness his daughter’s unfaithfulness, especially in light of how much pain his wife Jane’s affair with Rossetti had caused him.

After his death, May left Morris & Co. to become prominent in her own right, teaching and giving lectures on embroidery and textile arts.  But she was still her father’s daughter retracing his journey to Iceland, where her father had summered and translated the Eddas while Rossetti took up residence at Morris’s home — at Morris’s invitation, in order to guard what was left of Jane’s reputation.  After his death, May edited her father’s collected works, all 24 volumes of them.

Happy Birthdays, William and May.


Morris Society of Canada, William Morris birthday cakes


William Morris: The Soul of Arts and Crafts

What is Arts and Crafts?

In Memory of Josh Keen, Portland, Oregon

I was so sorry to find out tonight that Josh Keen killed himself late last Monday or early Tuesday, here in Portland. I haven’t published poems on the net for a long time. He numbered among my favorite poets anywhere and I want to acknowledge the loss of all the impossible futures. Thanks for everything you gave, Josh. ~XineAnn

Poem ending with a line from Stephen Crane
after Josh Keen

Night birds. The mood nods.
She listens. Change jingles in a distant pocket,
rounding the corner in its usual path,
turning north at the darkened street lamp
then heading up an alley
to approach from the backside.

The day ends the way a headache goes
when attention wanders.

Lights flicker across each living room, illuminate
a row of stages where one has no role,
where hopeless phantoms pass their nights

watching made-up characters
pretend to have lives.

It ends the way a headache goes.
Not everything is stated:
A smile greets him at the door,
as a shadow passes
through a kitchen window.

The moon impales herself on a deodar:
Tragedy fills a hundred empty stages,

and night birds carry on,
the mockingbird most of all,
his voice insistent.

Insistent and bitter.
But I like it because it is bitter,
and because it is my heart.

~XineAnn, February 2012

The Night Journey, Terri Windling


Undine, Arthur Rackham

Go by coombe, by candle light,

by moonlight, starlight, stepping stone,

and step o’er bracken, branches, briars,

and go tonight, and go alone,

go by water, go by willow,

go by ivy, oak and ash,

and rowan berries red as blood,

and breadcrumbs, stones, to mark the path;

find the way by water’s whisper,

water rising from a womb

of granite, peat, of summer heat,

to slake your thirst and fill the coombe

and tumble over moss and stone

and feed the roots of ancient trees

and call to you: go, now, tonight,

by water, earth, phyllomancy,

by candle flame, by spirit-name,

by spells, by portents, myth and song,

by drum beat, heart beat, earth pulsing

beneath your feet, calling you home,

calling you back, calling you through

the water, wood, the waste, the wild,

the hills where Dartmoor ponies pass,

and black-faced sheep, a spectral child,

a fox with pale unnatural eyes,

an owl, a badger, ghostly deer

with horns of star light, candle light

to guide the way, to lead you here,

to lead you to the one who waits,

who sits and waits upon the tor,

he waits and watches, wondering

if you’re the one he’s waiting for;

he waits by dawn, by dusk, by dark,

by sun, by rain, by day, by night,

his hair as black as ravens’ wings,

his eyes of amber, skin milk white,

his skin tattooed with spiral lines

beneath a mask of wood and leaves

and polished stone and sun-bleached bone,

beneath a shirt of spiders’ weave,

his wrists weighted with silver bands

and copper braids tarnished to green,

he waits for you, unknown and yet

familiar from forgotten dreams;

you dream and stir upon your bed

and toss and turn among the sheets,

the wind taps at the window glass

and water tumbles through the leat

and through the garden, through the wood,

and over moss and over stone

and tells you: go, by candle light,

and go tonight, and go alone;

he’s sent you dreams, he’s left you signs,

he’s left you feathers, beads and runes,

so go, tonight, by candle light,

by ash and oak, by wood, by coombe.

~Terri Windling


On Creativity: Mark Twain’s Letter to Helen Keller


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Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that ‘plagiarism’ farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances — is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men — but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington’s battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing — and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.

~Mark Twain, letter to Helen Keller

Be What You Would Seem To Be


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Ponce de Leon has come and gone

And the moral of that is: Be what you would seem to be, or if you’d like it put more simply: Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

The answer is: 7

Then perhaps it is not your thing after all…

Be what you would seem to be


The Myth of the Resurrection


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Now all this, if taken literally, is absurd… But to distinguish these two kinds of speech, the non-symbolic and the symbolic, in such a point is so important that if we are not able to make understandable to our contemporaries that we speak symbolically when we use such language, they will rightly turn away from us, as from people who still live in absurdities and superstitions.
~Paul Tillich Theology of Culture

Poem for Easter

Why do some stories persist? If a story is important enough to us, it will spread out and last and endure. ~Kate Orenstein

Symbolism of Spring

Thank you for the duckling