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This review is taken from PN Review 110, Volume 22 Number 6, July - August 1996.

WALLPAPERS AND REVOLUTION Arnold rattenbury, Morris Papers (Shoestring Press £4.95)

As a young man Arnold Rattenbury was the assistant editor of Our Time, a left-wing monthly which, under Edgell Rickword's inspired editorship, devoted much space to the relationship between art and society. He has returned to this theme in Morris Papers as in his previous collection, The Frigger Makers (Shoestring Press, 1994). The poems in the latter dealt with various forms of folk art, objects made by working men and women from metal, wood, glass, slate, bone, straw or wool for both use and pleasure. In Morris Papers poems suggested by William Morris's wallpaper designs (four of which are reproduced in this attractive booklet) alternate with poems on his writings and his Socialist activities.

Morris's admirers tend to fall into two camps; those who like his designs or his Pre-Raphaelite verse often are unenthusiastic about his revolutionary Socialism, and vice versa. There is no problem, however, for Rattenbury, who finds a common pattern running through all Morris's activities. Morris the rebel, he suggests, is one with 'the artist, the dreamer, even the fiddler/while Rome bums', and the principles laid down in his Some Hints on Pattern Designing -'Beauty, Imagination, Order' - are also applicable to society. In The Earthly Paradise stories of a heroic past are set between poems of the English countryside:
 

Now nail that Paradise, not there
but on this earthly calendar
of months, twelve poems of now, here.


Morris was a Utopian, but ...


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