Since William Morris saw the production of art as integral to the creation of a socialist society, one can find in much of his writing an argument, implicit or explicit, in favor of socialism. I find a compelling comparison between the book Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome by Morris and Ernest Belfort Bax, and William Morris’ own poem “Pomona.”
The relevant arguments I would like to highlight in Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome come from its first two chapters, where Morris and Bax argue that the freedom of prehistoric life gave way to a slavery inherent to life in cities. In the earliest known civilizations, built around mutual protection, “the land began to be accepted as the source of the wealth of the community, and…was recognised as the definite property of the community” (Morris and Bax). As soon, however, as “there was an excess of wealth over bare necessity, its distribution began to be unequal, and… class society began to appear.” (Morris and Bax). The development of the urban world led to “the change in the ownership of land which now made the citizen a representative and possessor of a portion of the city territory…in the earlier times the land belonged to the group; now the individual belonged to the land.” (Morris and Bax). For the two authors of Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome, urbanization severed humanity’s primordial connection to nature.
The figure of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and natural bounty, seems eminently suited to represent that argument against urban life. Pomona stresses her ancientness in the very first two lines of her namesake poem: “I am the ancient Apple-Queen,/As once I was so am I now” (lines 1-2). She is as prehistoric and unchanging as (according to Morris and Bax) the human desire to live freely in community. Elements of socialist thought then begin to make themselves clear: “For evermore a hope unseen,/Betwixt the blossom and the bough” (lines 3-4); hope, a concept with decidedly revolutionary implications in the 19th century, quite literally comes from within nature.
Pomona begins the second stanza by asking two locations: first, that of “the river’s hidden gold,” and second “the windy grave of Troy” (lines 5-6). While the second reference is obvious, the first may allude to the story of Decebalus, the Dacian king who hid his treasure a river to keep it from the Romans. If this is the correct interpretation, then these lines both seem to refer to signs of ancient social stratification: one to material possessions only accessible to those with wealth, the other to a powerful—and, as we have learned, inherently stratified—city. These questions remain unanswered. While the site of Troy and whereabouts of an ancient treasure hoard are thus unknowable, “yet come I,” Pomona says, “as I came of old,/From out the heart of Summer’s joy” (lines 7-8). Physical, material signs of political and economic domination have faded, but she, representative of nature, is completely unchanged. The resilience of nature—and the human freedom that comes with it—is the “hope unseen” which exists “for evermore.”
Morris, William, and E. Belfort Bax. Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome. 1893, www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1893/sgo/index.htm.
Morris, William. “Pomona.” The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse, Penguin Books, pp. 548-49.