A quick note about a bed

Earlier on this month I took a trip to the Tate Britain to see the exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde before it closed on 14th January. I am loving living in London and being able to take a little afternoon jolly and call it a research trip!

Obviously as a Victorianist I know a bit about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but probably not as much as I should, and I really enjoyed the way the exhibition was set out to introduce the aims and manifestoes of the gang before going on to look thematically at their paintings. 

I was totally enchanted by so many of the pictures, especially those that I have seen in reproduction hundreds of times, on the web, on cards, prints, in books - paintings such as Hunt's The Awakening Conscience and Millais' Mariana in the Moated Grange. There's something really special about experiencing these works 'in the flesh'...but those musings are for another post.

Something I wasn't expecting to see at the exhibition was William Morris' bed. 


The bed in its usual home, Kelmscott Manor. Source: Tate

After the initial surprise (it's so short! how tall was he??) I was really rather drawn to it. The decorative arts were of course central to Morris' philosophy, and the hand wrought embroidery on the hangings is completely gorgeous. It was completed by Morris' daughter May and wife Jane, along with other Morris & Co. embroiderers. You can watch a short film the Tate have put together about the Morris family's relationship to the embroidery here

My Mum best of all will know that I am a woman eternally devoted to my bed - eager to get in it and hard to prise out of it - so I was delighted to read Morris' poem 'For the bed at Kelmscott' embroidered on the top panels. I can entirely relate to the utter devotion to an object which apparently inspired this love poem. Is there anything better than slipping into cool sheets, suitably wearied by the day, with the windows flung open to a summer's evening, a breeze, and the prospect of a long, deep sleep....absolute bliss. And I think this poem shows that Morris agreed. The entire poem is below; the second half only is embroidered on the bed.


'For the bed at Kelmscott' by William Morris.

The wind's on the wold 
And the night is a-cold,
And Thames runs chill
'Twixt mead and hill.
But kind and dear
Is the old house here
And my heart is warm
'Midst winter's harm.
Rest then and rest,
And think of the best
'Twixt summer and spring,
When all birds sing
In the town of the tree,
And ye in me
And scarce dare move,
Lest earth and its love
Should fade away
Ere the full of the day. 

I am old and have seen
Many things that have been;
Both grief and peace
And wane and increase
No tale I tell
Of ill or well,
But this I say:
Night treadeth on day,
And for worst or best
Right good is rest. 

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