The Haystack in the Floods
The Haystack in the Floods", is a narrative poem of some 150 lines by William Morris, first published in "The Defence of Guenevere, and Other Poems" in 1858. It is probably these days his best-known poem. It is a grimly realistic piece set during the Hundred Years' Warin which the doomed lovers Jehane and Robert, having been chased down by Godmar and his knights, have a last parting in a convincingly portrayed rain swept French countryside.
Three passages from it are most often quoted:
in medias res" opening:
:Had she come all the way for this,:To part at last without a kiss?:Yea, had she borne the dirt and rain:That her own eyes might see him slain:Beside the haystack in the floods?
Godmar's threat to Jehane:
:Eh? lies my Jehane? by God's head,:At Paris folks would deem them true!:Do you know, Jehane, they cry for you,:'Jehane the brown! Jehane the brown!:Give us Jehane to burn or drown!'
And the forlorn conclusion, following Robert's brutal slaying by Godmar:
:She shook her head and gazed awhile:At her cold hands with a rueful smile,:As though this thing had made her mad.
:This was the parting that they had:Beside the haystack in the floods.
The poem succeeds because of its narrative pace, rather than ostentatiously-crafted language. It was one of the poems from Morris' early romantic period which were brought to the fore by historian
E. P. Thompson(himself a published poet) in his 1955 biography of Morris.
* [http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/1505.html University of Toronto: "The Haystack in the Floods"]
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