Study Guide

The Defence of Guenevere Lines 26-45

By William Morris

Lines 26-45

Yea, yea, my lord, and you to ope your eyes,
At foot of your familiar bed to see

"A great God's angel standing, with such dyes,
Not known on earth, on his great wings, and hands,
Held out two ways, light from the inner skies

"Showing him well, and making his commands
Seem to be God's commands, moreover, too,
Holding within his hands the cloths on wands;

"And one of these strange choosing cloths was blue,
Wavy and long, and one cut short and red;
No man could tell the better of the two.

"After a shivering half-hour you said:
'God help! heaven's colour, the blue;' and he said, 'hell.'
Perhaps you then would roll upon your bed,

"And cry to all good men that loved you well,
'Ah Christ! if only I had known, known, known;'
Launcelot went away, then I could tell,

"Like wisest man how all things would be, moan,
And roll and hurt myself, and long to die,
And yet fear much to die for what was sown.

  • The speaker asks the assembled men to imagine themselves lying on their deathbed, opening their eyes, and seeing an angel at the foot of their bed.
  • The angel holds up two pieces of cloth – one is red, the other blue – and says to choose.
  • Even though they look different, the speaker tells us they're equally good – "No man could tell the better of the two" – so how's a person supposed to choose between them?
  • She says that after thirty minutes of agonizing over the decision, they would choose, perhaps, the blue one, the color of heaven. And the angel would tell them that it represented "hell."
  • Oh no! How could they have known which cloth represented hell and which represented heaven?
  • She says they might cry and roll around in their bed and say, "if only I had known," but it would be too late.
  • She says that after Launcelot went away, she was able to tell "how things would be."
  • This is the first time Launcelot has been mentioned. You've probably heard of him before as Lancelot, one of King Arthur's trusty knights of the Round Table.
  • She doesn't say anything about what she and Launcelot had done, or what the consequences would be.
  • She doesn't give much detail at all, really – she just says that after he had left, she began to worry that she might "die" as a consequence.

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