"Ah Christ! If Only I Had Known, Known, Known"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: William Morris, who was highly interested in everything medieval, wrote a number of poems utilizing materials from the Arthurian legends. This poem is based upon the famous story, puzzling and disturbing to the British in the age of Queen Victoria, of King Arthur's queen, Guenevere, who fell in love after her marriage with one of the greatest, some legends say the greatest, of the Knights of the Round Table, Sir Lancelot. In this poem Queen Guenevere is called upon, after charges have been made, particularly by Sir Gauwaine, to defend her conduct, which for a queen involves treason, not merely adultery. Guenevere loves Lancelot and does not pretend otherwise, but she compares herself to a dying man who is presented with cloths of two colors by an angel and asked to choose which is the color of Hell and which of Heaven. With no one, nor anything, to help, the dying man must choose between the red and the blue cloths held by the angel–making his choice for eternity. Choosing the blue, as the color of the heavens, the dying man unwittingly chooses Hell. Guenevere says to the court that the judges should try to envision themselves in the dying man's place, as she feels she has a similar decision:

"After a shivering half-hour you said,
'God help! heaven's color, the blue;' and he said, 'Hell.'
Perhaps then you would roll upon your bed,
"And cry to all good men who loved you well,
'Ah Christ! if only I had known, known, known;'
Lancelot 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."