In 1858, when William Morris published his first volume of poetry, The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems, he had not yet fully developed his auxiliary talents as "artist, pattern designer, weaver, dyer, expert on medieval manuscripts, illuminator, printer, businessman, political agitator, book collector, and translator" ( Hodgson, Romances13). He was a young man of only twenty-four who brought his poetical characters thoroughly to life through his imagination, his familiarity with the ideas of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other Pre-Raphaelites, his wide reading of poetry, and his acute understanding of medievalism. The volume's initial four poems are Arthurian, derived from Malory Morte: The Defence of Guenevere," King Arthur's Tomb," Sir Galahad, A Christmas Mystery," and The Chapel in Lyoness." Four other works included in the volume mention Arthurian characters: Golden Wings," Near Avalon," Sir Peter Harpdon's End," and A Good Knight in Prison." All but the last poem briefly refer to various figures from Camelot as dead, but well remembered. In A Good Knight in Prison," the protagonist, Sir Guy, is a contemporary of Launcelot and is rescued by him.
Also around the time that the poems were written for this 1858 volume, Morris began a poem called The Maying of Guenevere; the work survives as a fragment, although Morris never published it. This poem concerns the frustration of Mellyagraunce, who loves Guenevere even though she ridicules