Tuesday 2 August 2011

Dowson Day

'They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream...'

'I have forgot much, Cynara! Gone with the wind...

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

The poems of Ernest Dowson, who was born on this day in 1867, are rich in sonorous phrases which live in the memory and, in the case of those quoted above, survive in the titles of a film (Days of Wine and Roses), a novel and film (Gone with the Wind) and a song (Cole Porter's Always True to You in My Fashion). Dowson also, if the OED is to be believed, made the first written use of the word 'soccer' for football (though he spelt it 'socca' - it's unlikely he ever played a game). He was a hard-working writer, a member of the Rhymers' Club and a prolific contributor to magazines such as The Yellow Book and The Savoy, but his personal life was a chapter of tragedies. There was his doomed love for a Polish girl whom he first met when she was 11 years old and whom he finally lost, after years of dogged pursuit, to a tailor who lodged above her father's restaurant. Then Dowson's consumptive father died of an overdose of chloral, after which his mother, also consumptive, hanged herself. This succession of events was too much for Dowson, who went into a steep, alcohol-fuelled decline, dying derelict at the age of 32. His poems, full of lovesickness, languor, world-weariness and (understandable) longing for oblivion and release, are prime specimens of English 'Decadent' verse, overripe for modern tastes. But, in small doses, Dowson is still worth reading - and he certainly had an ear for the music of words. His lines might tend to hollowness, but they sing.


  1. Lovely stuff, Dave, thanks - must remember 'deboshed'!

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