THEY ARE NOT LONG THE WEEPING AND THE LAUGHTER: THE POETRY OF ERNEST DOWSON

The poetry of Ernest Dowson never fails to move me. Dowson was born in 1867 and died in 1900 but during those 32 years produced some wonderfully moving verse.

Death and sensuality are key components of Dowson’s poetry. His poem “They are not Long” which (as it’s title suggests deals with the brevity of life) is particularly poignant when one considers the short life of the poet himself. He died, aged only 32 of alcoholism,

“They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,

Love and desire and hate:

I think they have no portion in us after

We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

Out of a misty dream

Our path emerges for awhile, then closes

Within a dream.”

The above poignantly sums up the human condition. Our joys and sorrows (“the weeping and the laughter” are transitory as we are only here for a brief space of time before we pass into that undiscovered country from who’s bourn no traveller returns.

The poem although primarily about death contains elements of sensuality, “They are not long, the days of wine and roses”, a reference perhaps to Dowson’s riotous mode of living (besides being an alcoholic

 Dowson also consorted with prostitutes on a not infrequent basis).

The below poem, “Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae”, was probably inspired by Dowson’s unrequited love for the daughter of a Polish tailor and captures the efforts of the poet to unsuccessfully forget his lost love by flinging himself into riotous living,   

“Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine

There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed

Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;

And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,

Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,

Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;

Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;

But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,

When I awoke and found the dawn was grey:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,

Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,

Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;

But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,

Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,

But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,

Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;

And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,

Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.”

Dowson’s attempt to find solace in the arms of a prostitute fails to stil his inner pain,

“All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,

Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;

Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;

But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,

When I awoke and found the dawn was grey:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.”

Dowson brilliantly captures the regret felt for the activities of the night before (the grey dawn ushers in a new day, one feels regret for yesterday’s actions which have, in any case failed to solve the underlying itch which drove you to find release in the joys of the flesh, alcohol or whatever the case may be). Ultimately the “madder music” and “stronger wine” solve nothing, the poet as do all of us have to contend with the real world, with the grey dawn.

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About kevinmorris101

I live and work in London and blog as a hobby. If you would like to contact me please send an email to animalia at shiftmail.com (the address is rendered in this manner in order to try and defeat spammers)!
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5 Responses to THEY ARE NOT LONG THE WEEPING AND THE LAUGHTER: THE POETRY OF ERNEST DOWSON

  1. snail1966 says:

    Thanks for that Kevin. I hadn’t encountered Dowson’s writing before – a quick visit to Wikipedia confirms that he was the donor of the title for the book (and of course the film) “Gone with the Wind”, so I learned something today !

    • Glad you enjoyed my post. I’ve also learned something as I, also was unaware that Dowson was the donor of the title “Gone with the Wind”. I think that he is a much neglected poet and deserves more attention than he gets. However, having said that I did notice that there is a Facebook group specifically dedicated to him!

      Kevin

  2. Pingback: ERNEST CHRISTOPHER DOWSON | My Blog

  3. Cheryl says:

    While doing research about “Madder Music” by Peter DeVries for my bookclub, I read your blog. DeVries credits Dowson with a stanza from this poem. This opens up DeVries’ meaning for his novel about a philandering husband searching for meaning and a way back from his guilt. Love how the poem gracefully says what the novel comically says.

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