The Proud King by William Morris: Themes, Language, Setting, Structure and Poetic device.

The Proud King by William Morris: Themes, Language,
Setting, Structure and Poetic device
.

                                              The Proud King by William Morris
This
long narrative poem captures the downfall of a powerful king from riches to rags
due to his hubris. His personality flaw lies in pride. Due to the enormous wealth
and authority he exerts, King Jovinian exhibits royal arrogance. He feels that he
is more than a man and places himself on equal status with God. To him, he cannot
die. He has assumed immortality. Because of this, God decides to humble King Jovinian.

THEMES IN WILLIAM MORRIS’
“THE PROUD KING”

William
Morris’ “The Proud King” is one that has so many themes embedded in
it. Some of these numerous themes are:

1.
Pride goes before a fall

The
poem insinuate to the biblical teaching of pride and its repercussions, which
is projected through the actions of the epic hero, King Jovinian. The key
ideology of the poem validates the authenticity of the popular biblical proposition,
“God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble”.

 2.
The supremacy of God

God
is a Supreme Being and will never hesitate to prove his supremacy when the need
be. When King Jovinian assumes the position of a god due to his influence and
affluence, God reduced him to a common madman until he admits that God gave him
all that he has. The theme of Supremacy: The poet proves that the supremacy of
God is far better than that of the King Jovinian. Jovinian’s supremacy
makes
him maintain fear and respect for his positions and possessions
but
the supremacy of God ripped him off his power and possesions, shamed him and reduced
him to nothing in the eyes of everyone; “The hot sun sorely
burned
his naked skin” (in line 100). The angel finally revealed
himself
to King Jovinian from line 719-728:

3. The
theme of Arrogance: King Jovinian’s arrogance went far even in

his
situation of wretchedness, he was arrogantly approaching the nobles; he
was
banging the palace gate with a very heavy stone in line 143-144
“He
hurdled himself against the mighty gate/ And beat upon it madly
with
a stone” and in line 215-217, he was shouting at the ranger;
“Armies
will rise up when I nod my head/ Slay me! _or cast thy
treachery
away/ And have anew my favour from this day.”

4. The theme of Repentance: Without repentance, the proud king

wouldn’t
have regain his power, possessions and wealth. King Jovinian was
potrayed
in the poem in different forms. He began to wear heart of
regret;
“Muttered, I wish the day would ne’er come back/ If all that
once
I had I now must lack” (line 333-334) in his regrets, he still
has
hope for “the fresh morning air/ The rising sun, and all things
fresh
and fair/ Yet caused some little hope in him to rise” (in lines
347-349)
and at a certain point he narrated his plight to Christopher
a-Green
from line 365-370:
“And
asked him of his name and misery;
Then
in his throat a swelling passion rose,
Which
yet he swallowed down, and, “Friend,” said he,
“Last
night I had the hap to meet the foes
Of
God and man, who robbed me, and with blows
Stripped
off my weed and left me on the way:”
When
King Jovinian became so confused in his state of nothingness, he
called
on God in line 435-436; “Ah, God!” said he, “is this another
earth/
From that whereon I stood two days ago?” he further begged God
from
line 605-609 “Saying, “Lord God, what bitter things are these?
What
hast thou done, that every man that sees/ This wretched body, of
my
death is fain?/ O Lord God, give me back myself again!”.

5.
Death is inevitable

As
they say ” All things must come to an end”. No who you are or the
position you hold in the society, you will surely sleep in the cold hands of death
when the time is due. King Jovinian thinks his affluence, titles, influence and
other worldly fortunes can immortalise him or save him from dying like his
predecessors. Thus,this is an utopian thought coming from an conceited king. At
the latter part of the poem, it is revealed that he eventually King Jovinian
dies and another king reigns afterwards.

6. Ultimate
power corrupts ultimately.

In
this poem, William Morris reveals how power corrupts mortal men. King Jovinian
is intoxicated by power. His disdainful and vain acts are products of his
affluence and influence, which he gained through power. The Ranger is not left
out here. In stanza 36, we are meant to understand that he is enthusiastic with
his earthly gains and position that after King Jovinian leaves his presence, he
orders his servants to bring in a musician to play in sweet melodies. He is
delighted with his achievements and grateful to the king (instead of God) for
the grace that he has enjoyed. This also shows that the Ranger is happy for
King Jovinian’s misfortune hence his sarcastic gratitude to him (Jovinian).
SETTING
“The
Proud King” is set in the medieval period, a period when kings in Europe
ruled as absolute sovereigns of their lands.
LANGUAGE
The
language of William Morris’ “The Proud King” is simple (that is,
easily comprehensible) and conversational; and as an epic poem, it is narrative
in nature. The poem is also spiced with Elizabethan lexicons such as
“thou” (L. 269), “thy” (L. 187), which are present in the
religious register of the medieval period within which this poem is set. The
presence of such lexicons does not only project the setting of the poem, but
also portrays it as a religious poem, aimed at revealing the evil consequences
of pride.
STRUCTURE
The
poem is made up of 119 stanzas of 849 lines. 117 out of 119 stanzas comprise
seven lines each, with a consistent rhyme scheme (ababbcc) while the last 2
stanzas have nineteen and eleven lines, with the rhyme scheme, “aabbccddeeffgghhiij”
and “abbccddeeff” respectively
POETIC DEVICES/FIGURES OF
SPEECH IN “THE PROUD KING”
Some
of the poetic devices or figures of speech in this poem are:
1.
Alliteration
“May
morning” (L. 15).
“step…
step” (L. 30).
“his
horse” (L. 64).
“visage
vanished” (L. 141).
“Worse
who was of little worth” (L. 613) etc.
2.
Hyperbole
Some
expressions are exaggerated in the poem.
Examples:
“mighty
gate” (L. 117).
“a
mighty hart and swift” (L. 45).
“And
since his horse was worth a Kingdom’s gift” (L. 47).
3.
Antithesis
The
poet uses two opposite expressions to pass across a vital message.
Examples:
“And
is a mighty lord to slay and save” (L. 648).
“New
things becoming old, and old things new” (L. 784).
4.
Oxymoron
The
placing together of two contradictory words to express an idea.
Example:
“Thou
bitter-sweet thou knowest well this is” (L. 747).
5.
Personification
“angry
eye” (L. 708).
6.
Biblical allusion
There
are some biblical allusion in the poem.
Examples:
“As
Adam’s, ere he took the devil’s hire” (L.186).
“Since
Noah’s flood has altered all the air” (L. 203).
7.
Euphemism
“That
it may lie when I am gone away”.
8.
Inversion
This
literary device occurs when a normal sentence order is reversed.
Example:
“King
was I yesterday, and long before” (L. 485).
Normally,
this would have been “I was a King yesterday, and long before”.
9.
Repetition
“Morning”
(Lines 15, 46, 213).
“God”
(Lines 104, 187, 194, 196).
“May
morning” (Lines 15 and 213).
10.
Synecdoche
“God
and the world against one lonely head” (L. 560). The word ‘head’
represents  King Jovinian.
11.
Rhetorical question
“Is
this a dream that my wearied eyes behold?” (L. 634).
“What
doleful wonder now shall I be told/Of that I’ll world that I so long have
left?” (Lines 635 and 636).
“What
thing thy glory from thee has bereft” (L. 637) etc.
12.
Irony
Precisely
the use of dramatic irony in the poem. The concept of the king’s identity seems
ironic in the sense that only the king and the readers of the poem understood
the king’s predicament; no one else.

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