In regard to the poem itself, the inspiration of these pictures, even the most casual study will bring in its train a conviction that the story as told by William Morris is far superior to any other version of classic or of modern times. The poem (one of the best of those comprised in The Earthly Paradise) is homogeneous and admirably balanced in all its parts; its superiority, however, over all other versions, is not due primarily to the manner of its narration, but arises from its greater spirituality—a finer feeling rather than a finer form. Prior to the appearance of "Pygmalion and the Image" each narrator of the legend had dwelt mainly on the physical side, sensuous or sensual according to his temperament, of the tale. In Morris's version the dominant note is the passionate delight—enthusiasm verging upon madness—of the artist and craftsman in his own handiwork, reflecting, to a marked degree, Morris's own temperament, one of the leading characteristics of which was his habit of hurling himself headlong into each new project as it claimed his attention from time to time. That he was prevented thereby from arriving at perfection in any one art need not lessen the admiration due to him for his whole-souled (though usually short-lived) absorption in many and diverse arts. A great poet, in the sense that Chaucer, his master and model, was great, Morris was not; but no one can deny to him the title of an enthusiastic and skilled craftsman of verse. It is this love of craftsmanship for its own sake, joined to a remarkable feeling for decorative beauty which both possessed, that binds the pictures of Burne-Jones and this poem by Morris so closely together that they form one perfect whole. Even the ideal and wholly imaginary world in which their figures move is the same—a land where emotion rather than passion bears sway, where the fates of man and of woman are determined by a whim of the gods rather than dominated by the chivalrous or devout hardihood of the individual.
In his "Apology" prefixed to The Earthly Paradise, Morris clearly and definitely disclaims any moral purpose in the poems comprised in it.
"Why should I strive to set the crooked straight?" he writes. How far this feeling was shared by Burne-Jones we can never know, but nearly all of his biographers are agreed that a love of beauty, as he understood it, was his main preoccupation, or, to use his own words, that a picture should be a "beautiful, romantic dream." Julia Cartwright, in her Life and Work of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, says: "He never tried to point a moral or to teach a lesson; but he rescued beauty from the forgetfulness to which it seemed doomed in a restless and material age, and in so doing has given us an example of the highest value." Malcolm Bell, also, writing of the art of Burne-Jones and of its critics, expresses a like opinion, and his analysis of the paintings composing the Pygmalion Series is not only interesting in itself, but is especially so as showing the extent to which the man of letters can read his own interpretation into the work of a painter.