William Morris – A Christmas Ballad

William Morris print

William Morris print

William Morris (1834-1896) is best known as a leading figure in the late Victorian decorative arts, however he was also a poet and political activist but his poetry is today virtually unknown. Here, in celebration of Christmas, is an early poem by Morris:

A Christmas Ballad

Outlanders, whence come ye last?
The snow in the street and the wind on the door.
Through what green sea and great have ye past?
Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.

From far away, O masters mine,
The snow in the street and the wind on the door.
We come to bear you goodly wine:
Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.

From far away we come to you,
The snow in the street and the wind on the door.
To tell of great tidings strange and true:
Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.

News, news of the Trinity,
The snow in the street and the wind on the door.
And Mary and Joseph from over the sea:
Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.

For as we wandered far and wide,
The snow in the street and the wind on the door.
What hope do ye deem there should us betide?
Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.

Under a bent when the night was deep,
The snow in the street and the wind on the door.
There lay three shepherds tending their sheep:
Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.

“O ye shepherds, what have ye seen,
The snow in the street and the wind on the door.
To slay your sorrow and heal your teen?”
Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.

“In an ox-stall this night we saw,
The snow in the street and the wind on the door.
A Babe and a maid without a flaw.
Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.
“There was an old man there beside,
The snow in the street and the wind, on the door.
His hair was white, and his hood was wide.
Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.

“And as we gazed this thing upon,
The snow in the street and the wind on the door.
Those twain knelt down to the Little One.
Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.

“And a marvellous song we straight did hear,
The snow in the street and the wind on the door.
That slew our sorrow and healed our care.”
Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.

News of a fair and a marvellous thing,
The snow in the street and the wind on the door.
Nowell, nowell, nowell, we sing!
Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.

William Morris was born in Essex, educated at Exeter College, Oxford, where he was the founding editor of the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine (1856) in which many of his early poems appear. He declined a position as a poetry professor at Oxford.. After Oxford he moved to London to study as an architect, in the office of G.E Street, where he met Philip Webb and Burne-Jones. While working here, Morris in 1860 wrote the Christmas carol Masters in This Hall (alternative title: Nowell, Sing We Clear) to an old French dance tune.

In April 1878 Morris took a lease on Kelmscot House in Upper Mall, Hammersmith. Soon after moving in Morris began experiments with weaving. He set up a tapestry loom in his ground floor bedroom and carpet looms in the Coach House. The latter were moved to his new works at Merton Abbey in 1881. The small rugs and carpets made here are known as Hammersmith rugs and bear the woven device of a hammer in the border.

William Morris print

William Morris print

In 1890 Morris became interested in printing and established the Kelmscot Press for the production of exquisitely printed books and in the same year was a founding member of the Hammersmith Socialist Society. He died in 1896 and is buried at Kelmscot, in Gloucestershire.

Kelmscot House has a comprehensive collection of Morris and Company wallpapers, watercolour designs, and a selection of textiles, ranging from a Hammersmith rug and woven hangings to printed cottons, silks and embroideries, as well as a number of Kelmscot Press titles and working proofs as well as the only printing press used by Morris left in England.

William Morris print

William Morris print

The house is open to the public on a regular basis, so if you would like to know more about William Morris and his work, do go and visit it.

Kelmscot House
26 upper Mall, Hammersmith, W6 9TA

  • Open on Thursday and Saturday afternoons from 14.00 to 17.00 and at other times by appointment.
  • School groups and private tours are welcomed.
  • Tel (0)208 741 37353735 info@williammorrissociety.org.uk

From all at Hammersmith & Fulham libraries and Kelmscot house, we wish you a merry Christmas.

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