The HyperTexts

Ernest Dowson: A Major Poet

Was Ernest Dowson a minor poet, or one of the more obscure major poets of the English language? This page contains Dowson's best poems, coinages, quotes and a biography, so that you can decide for yourself. Dowson's most famous poems—and rightly so—appear on this page in full, including his Cynara poem, "A Last Word," "April Love" and "Vitae Summa Brevis."

"Luminous with Lilies"

with an introduction by Michael R. Burch and a memoir and critical review/analysis by Dowson's contemporary, the poet/critic Arthur Symons

Ernest Christopher Dowson [1867-1900] gets my vote as one the very best unknown (or at least vastly underrated) poets of all time. Dowson wrote a handful of utterly stellar gems—poems which are surely worth more than the entire opuses of lesser poets. His first four poems on this page are immortal ones, in my opinion, and others that follow are wonderfully touching and moving. Some remind me of sad lullabies, while others are reminiscent of the bleaker poems of A. E. Housman; for instance, the ones about lost youth, unrequited love and dying alone.

Dowson was a member of the Rhymers' Club, along with William Butler Yeats, Ernest Rhys, John Gray, Lionel Johnson and Arthur Symons. Dowson has also been associated with the Decadent movement, as he shared affinities with poets like Edgar Allan Poe (who inspired the movement), Paul Verlaine (whom Dowson wrote poems after), Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Algernon Charles Swinburne and Oscar Wilde (a poet Dowson knew personally). In addition to writing lyric poetry, Dowson also translated French fiction and wrote novels, short stories, reviews and a verse play. He attended Queen's College, Oxford, but left in 1887 without obtaining a degree.

Dowson, with his eerie poems about "Hollow Lands" inhabited by equally hollow men, was a rather obvious influence on T. S. Eliot, and thus on English modernism and postmodernism. Yeats also cited Dowson as one of his major influences. Dowson is also notable for being the first English writer to mention soccer (spelled "socca"), and for coinages like "gone with the wind," "days of wine and roses," "out of a misty dream" and "the night is thine." He is also credited with a naughty pun, or early spoonerism, which appeared in a letter to Arthur Moore: "absinthe makes the tart grow fonder."

Dowson died before his time, a victim of depression, alcoholism and perhaps a broken heart, at age thirty-two. There's no telling what he might have accomplished if he had lived longer, but what he left us in his short time on earth is impressive enough. Arthur Symons, who knew Dowson and his poetry intimately, said that he was "undoubtedly a man of genius ... one of the very few writers of our generation to whom that name can be applied in its most intimate sense." Of Dowson's poetry, Symons said: "in these few evasive, immaterial snatches of song, I find, implied for the most part, hidden away like a secret, all the fever and turmoil and the unattained dreams of a life which had itself so much of the swift, disastrous, and suicidal impetus of genius." Symons again: "There never was a poet to whom verse came more naturally ... He had the pure lyric gift, unweighed or unballasted by any other quality of mind or emotion."

To understand the source of Dowson's poetry—his Muse, if you will—we must consider what Symons said about the love of Dowson's life, and how it ended: "I only saw twice, and for a few moments only, the young girl [Adelaide "Missie" Foltinowicz] to whom most of his verses were to be written, and whose presence in his life may be held to account for much of that astonishing contrast between the broad outlines of his life and work. The situation seemed to me of the most exquisite and appropriate impossibility ... she listened to his verses, smiled charmingly ... and at the end of two years married the waiter instead. Did she ever realise more than the obvious part of what was being offered to her, in this shy and eager devotion? Did it ever mean very much to her to have made and to have killed a poet? She had, at all events, the gift of evoking, and, in its way, of retaining, all that was most delicate, sensitive, shy, typically poetic, in a nature which I can only compare to a weedy garden, its grass trodden down by many feet, but with one small, carefully tended flowerbed, luminous with lilies."

Adelaide Foltinowicz, who was was only eleven or twelve when she met the twentyish Dowson, declined his offers of marriage even though he pursued her for six years. After she married the waiter, Dowson moved to France. A friend, R. H. Sherard, discovered him living wretchedly in Parispenniless and ill—and took him back to London, where he died in Sherard’s house.

Symons' tribute to Dowson appears in its entirety later on this page, and is well worth reading, as it provides biographical information and a critical appraisal of Dowson's work.

Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae

"I am not as I was under the reign of the good Cynara"—Horace

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 gray:
I have been faithful to you, 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.

A Last Word

Let us go hence: the night is now at hand;
The day is overworn, the birds all flown;
And we have reaped the crops the gods have sown;
Despair and death; deep darkness o'er the land,
Broods like an owl; we cannot understand
Laughter or tears, for we have only known
Surpassing vanity: vain things alone
Have driven our perverse and aimless band.
Let us go hence, somewhither strange and cold,
To Hollow Lands where just men and unjust
Find end of labour, where's rest for the old,
Freedom to all from love and fear and lust.
Twine our torn hands! O pray the earth enfold
Our life-sick hearts and turn them into dust.

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchohare longam

"The brevity of life forbids us to entertain hopes of long duration"—Horace

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 a while, then closes
Within a dream.

[Although this poem has been widely published and anthologized with the title "Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam" it seems from the typography of the original manuscript that this poem may be untitled, with the Latin inscription being an epigraph.]

April Love

We have walked in Love’s land a little way,
   We have learnt his lesson a little while,
And shall we not part at the end of day,
      With a sigh, a smile?

A little while in the shine of the sun,
   We were twined together, joined lips, forgot
How the shadows fall when the day is done,
     And when Love is not.

We have made no vows—there will none be broke,
   Our love was free as the wind on the hill,
There was no word said we need wish unspoke,
      We have wrought no ill.

So shall we not part at the end of day,
   Who have loved and lingered a little while,
Join lips for the last time, go our way,
     With a sigh, a smile?

Villanelle of the Poet's Road

Wine and woman and song,
     Three things garnish our way:
Yet is day over long.

Lest we do our youth wrong,
     Gather them while we may:
Wine and woman and song.

Three things render us strong,
     Vine leaves, kisses and bay;
Yet is day over long.

Unto us they belong,
     Us the bitter and gay,
Wine and woman and song.

We, as we pass along,
     Are sad that they will not stay;
Yet is day over long.

Fruits and flowers among,
     What is better than they:
Wine and woman and song?
     Yet is day over long.


By the sad waters of separation
   Where we have wandered by divers ways,
I have but the shadow and imitation
   Of the old memorial days.

In music I have no consolation,
   No roses are pale enough for me;
The sound of the waters of separation
   Surpasseth roses and melody.

By the sad waters of separation
   Dimly I hear from an hidden place
The sigh of mine ancient adoration:
   Hardly can I remember your face.

If you be dead, no proclamation
   Sprang to me over the waste, gray sea:
Living, the waters of separation
   Sever for ever your soul from me.

No man knoweth our desolation;
   Memory pales of the old delight;
While the sad waters of separation
   Bear us on to the ultimate night.

Ad Domnulam Suam

Little lady of my heart!
   Just a little longer,
Love me: we will pass and part,
   Ere this love grow stronger.

I have loved thee, Child! too well,
   To do aught but leave thee:
Nay! my lips should never tell
   Any tale, to grieve thee.

Little lady of my heart!
   Just a little longer,
I may love thee: we will part,
   Ere my love grow stronger.

Soon thou leavest fairy-land;
   Darker grow thy tresses:
Soon no more of hand in hand;
   Soon no more caresses!

Little lady of my heart!
   Just a little longer,
Be a child: then, we will part,
   Ere this love grow stronger.

Benedictio Domini

Without, the sullen noises of the street!
   The voice of London, inarticulate,
Hoarse and blaspheming, surges in to meet
   The silent blessing of the Immaculate.

Dark is the church, and dim the worshippers,
   Hushed with bowed heads as though by some old spell,
While through the incense-laden air there stirs
   The admonition of a silver bell.

Dark is the church, save where the altar stands,
   Dressed like a bride, illustrious with light,
Where one old priest exalts with tremulous hands
   The one true solace of man’s fallen plight.

Strange silence here; without, the sounding street
   Heralds the world’s swift passage to the fire;
O Benediction, perfect and complete!
   When shall men cease to suffer and desire?

Venite Descendamus

Let be at last; give over words and sighing,
   Vainly were all things said:
Better at last to find a place for lying,
   Only dead.

Silence were best, with songs and sighing over;
   Now be the music mute;
Now let the dead, red leaves of autumn cover
   A vain lute.

Silence is best: for ever and for ever,
   We will go down and sleep,
Somewhere beyond her ken, where she need never
   Come to weep.

Let be at last: colder she grows and colder;
   Sleep and the night were best;
Lying at last where we can not behold her,
   We may rest.


The fire is out, and spent the warmth thereof
(This is the end of every song man sings!)
The golden wine is drunk, the dregs remain,
Bitter as wormwood and as salt as pain;
And health and hope have gone the way of love
Into the drear oblivion of lost things.
Ghosts go along with us until the end;
This was a mistress, this, perhaps, a friend.
With pale, indifferent eyes, we sit and wait
For the dropt curtain and the closing gate:
This is the end of all the songs man sings.


Because I am idolatrous and have besought,
With grievous supplication and consuming prayer,
The admirable image that my dreams have wrought
Out of her swan’s neck and her dark, abundant hair:
The jealous gods, who brook no worship save their own,
Turned my live idol marble and her heart to stone.


Erewhile, before the world was old,
When violets grew and celandine,
In Cupid's train we were enrolled:
Your little hands were clasped in mine,
Your head all ruddy and sun-gold
Lay on my breast which was your shrine,
And all the tale of love was told:
Ah, God, that sweet things should decline,
And fires fade out which were not cold,

Amor Profanus

Beyond the pale of memory,
In some mysterious dusky grove;
A place of shadows utterly,
Where never coos the turtle-dove,
A world forgotten of the sun:
I dreamed we met when day was done,
And marvelled at our ancient love.

Met there by chance, long kept apart,
We wandered through the darkling glades;
And that old language of the heart
We sought to speak: alas! poor shades!
Over our pallid lips had run
The waters of oblivion,
Which crown all loves of men or maids.

In vain we stammered: from afar
Our old desire shone cold and dead:
That time was distant as a star,
When eyes were bright and lips were red.
And still we went with downcast eye
And no delight in being nigh,
Poor shadows most uncomforted.

Ah, Lalage! while life is ours,
Hoard not thy beauty rose and white,
But pluck the pretty fleeing flowers
That deck our little path of light:
For all too soon we twain shall tread
The bitter pastures of the dead:
Estranged, sad spectres of the night.

Nuns Of The Perpetual Adoration

Calm, sad, secure; behind high convent walls,
These watch the sacred lamp, these watch and pray:
And it is one with them when evening falls,
And one with them the cold return of day.

These heed not time; their nights and days they make
Into a long returning rosary,
Whereon their lives are threaded for Christ's sake;
Meekness and vigilance and chastity.

A vowed patrol, in silent companies,
Life-long they keep before the living Christ.
In the dim church, their prayers and penances
Are fragrant incense to the Sacrificed.

Outside, the world is wild and passionate;
Man's weary laughter and his sick despair
Entreat at their impenetrable gate:
They heed no voices in their dream of prayer.

They saw the glory of the world displayed;
They saw the bitter of it, and the sweet;
They knew the roses of the world should fade,
And be trod under by the hurrying feet.

Therefore they rather put away desire,
And crossed their hands and came to sanctuary
And veiled their heads and put on coarse attire:
Because their comeliness was vanity.

And there they rest; they have serene insight
Of the illuminating dawn to be:
Mary's sweet Star dispels for them the night,
The proper darkness of humanity.

Calm, sad, secure; with faces worn and mild:
Surely their choice of vigil is the best?
Yea! for our roses fade, the world is wild;
But there, beside the altar, there is rest.

The Dead Child

Sleep on, dear, now
   The last sleep and the best,
And on thy brow,
   And on thy quiet breast
Violets I throw.

Thy scanty years
   Were mine a little while;
Life had no fears
   To trouble thy brief smile
With toil or tears.

Lie still, and be
   For evermore a child!
Not grudgingly,
   Whom life has not defiled,
I render thee.

Slumber so deep,
   No man would rashly wake;
I hardly weep,
   Fain only, for thy sake,
To share thy sleep.

Yes, to be dead,
   Dead, here with thee to-day,
When all is said
   ’Twere good by thee to lay
My weary head.

The very best!
   Ah, child so tired of play,
I stand confessed:
   I want to come thy way,
And share thy rest.

Ad Manus Puellae

I was always a lover of ladies’ hands!
   Or ever mine heart came here to tryst,
For the sake of your carved white hands’ commands;
   The tapering fingers, the dainty wrist;
   The hands of a girl were what I kissed.

I remember an hand like a fleur-de-lys
   When it slid from its silken sheath, her glove;
With its odours passing ambergris:
   And that was the empty husk of a love.
   Oh, how shall I kiss your hands enough?

They are pale with the pallor of ivories;
   But they blush to the tips like a curled sea-shell:
What treasure, in kingly treasuries,
   Of gold, and spice for the thurible,
   Is sweet as her hands to hoard and tell!

I know not the way from your finger-tips,
   Nor how I shall gain the higher lands,
The citadel of your sacred lips:
   I am captive still of my pleasant bands,
   The hands of a girl, and most your hands.

In Spring

See how the trees and the osiers lithe
Are green bedecked and the woods are blithe,
The meadows have donned their cape of flowers,
The air is soft with the sweet May showers,
   And the birds make melody:
But the spring of the soul, the spring of the soul,
   Cometh no more for you or for me.

The lazy hum of the busy bees
Murmureth through the almond trees;
The jonquil flaunteth a gay, blonde head,
The primrose peeps from a mossy bed,
   And the violets scent the lane.
But the flowers of the soul, the flowers of the soul,
   For you and for me bloom never again.


I was not sorrowful, I could not weep,
And all my memories were put to sleep.

I watched the river grow more white and strange,
All day till evening I watched it change.

All day till evening I watched the rain
Beat wearily upon the window pane.

I was not sorrowful, but only tired
Of everything that ever I desired.

Her lips, her eyes, all day became to me
The shadow of a shadow utterly.

All day mine hunger for her heart became
Oblivion, until the evening came,

And left me sorrowful, inclined to weep,
With all my memories that could not sleep.


Strange grows the river on the sunless evenings!
The river comforts me, grown spectral, vague and dumb:
Long was the day; at last the consoling shadows come:
Sufficient for the day are the day’s evil things!

Labour and longing and despair the long day brings;
Patient till evening men watch the sun go west;
Deferred, expected night at last brings sleep and rest:
Sufficient for the day are the day’s evil things!

At last the tranquil Angelus of evening rings
Night’s curtain down for comfort and oblivion
Of all the vanities observed by the sun:
Sufficient for the day are the day’s evil things!

So, some time, when the last of all our evenings
Crowneth memorially the last of all our days,
Not loth to take his poppies man goes down and says,
“Sufficient for the day were the day’s evil things!”


All that I had I brought,
Little enough I know;
A poor rhyme roughly wrought,
A rose to match thy snow:
All that I had I brought.

Little enough I sought:
But a word compassionate,
A passing glance, or thought,
For me outside the gate:
Little enough I sought.

Little enough I found:
All that you had, perchance!
With the dead leaves on the ground,
I dance the devil's dance.
All that you had I found.

“Cease smiling, Dear! a little while be sad”
Dum nos fata sinunt, oculos satiemus Amore

Cease smiling, Dear! a little while be sad,
   Here in the silence, under the wan moon;
Sweet are thine eyes, but how can I be glad,
      Knowing they change so soon?

For Love’s sake, Dear, be silent! Cover me
   In the deep darkness of thy falling hair:
Fear is upon me and the memory
     Of what is all men’s share.

O could this moment be perpetuate!
   Must we grow old, and leaden-eyed and gray,
And taste no more the wild and passionate
      Love sorrows of to-day?

Grown old, and faded, Sweet! and past desire,
   Let memory die, lest there be too much ruth,
Remembering the old, extinguished fire
      Of our divine, lost youth.

O red pomegranate of thy perfect mouth!
   My lips’ life-fruitage, might I taste and die
Here in thy garden, where the scented south
      Wind chastens agony;

Reap death from thy live lips in one long kiss,
   And look my last into thine eyes and rest:
What sweets had life to me sweeter than this
      Swift dying on thy breast?

Or, if that may not be, for Love’s sake, Dear!
   Keep silence still, and dream that we shall lie,
Red mouth to mouth, entwined, and always hear
   The south wind’s melody,

Here in thy garden, through the sighing boughs,
   Beyond the reach of time and chance and change,
And bitter life and death, and broken vows,
      That sadden and estrange.

Beata Solitudo

What land of Silence,
   Where pale stars shine
On apple-blossom
   And dew-drenched vine,
   Is yours and mine?

The silent valley
   That we will find,
Where all the voices
   Of humankind
   Are left behind.

There all forgetting,
   Forgotten quite,
We will repose us,
   With our delight
   Hid out of sight.

The world forsaken,
   And out of mind
Honour and labour,
   We shall not find
   The stars unkind.

And men shall travail,
   And laugh and weep;
But we have vistas
   Of gods asleep,
   With dreams as deep.

A land of Silence,
   Where pale stars shine
On apple-blossoms
   And dew-drenched vine,
   Be yours and mine!

Yvonne Of Brittany

In your mother's apple-orchard,
Just a year ago, last spring:
Do you remember, Yvonne!
The dear trees lavishing
Rain of their starry blossoms
To make you a coronet?
Do you ever remember, Yvonne,
As I remember yet?

In your mother's apple-orchard,
When the world was left behind:
You were shy, so shy, Yvonne!
But your eyes were calm and kind.
We spoke of the apple harvest,
When the cider press is set,
And such-like trifles, Yvonne,
That doubtless you forget.

In the still, soft Breton twilight,
We were silent; words were few,
Till your mother came out chiding,
For the grass was bright with dew:
But I know your heart was beating,
Like a fluttered, frightened dove.
Do you ever remember, Yvonne,
That first faint flush of love?

In the fulness of midsummer,
When the apple-bloom was shed,
Oh, brave was your surrender,
Though shy the words you said.
I was glad, so glad, Yvonne!
To have led you home at last;
Do you ever remember, Yvonne,
How swiftly the days passed?

In your mother's apple-orchard
It is grown too dark to stray,
There is none to chide you, Yvonne!
You are over far away.
There is dew on your grave grass, Yvonne!
But your feet it shall not wet:
No, you never remember, Yvonne!
And I shall soon forget.

In A Breton Cemetery

They sleep well here,
These fisher-folk who passed their anxious days
In fierce Atlantic ways;
And found not there,
Beneath the long curled wave,
So quiet a grave.

And they sleep well,
These peasant-folk, who told their lives away,
From day to market-day,
As one should tell,
With patient industry,
Some sad old rosary.

And now night falls,
Me, tempest-tost, and driven from pillar to post,
A poor worn ghost,
This quiet pasture calls;
And dear dead people with pale hands
Beckon me to their lands.


Through what long heaviness, assayed in what strange fire,
   Have these white monks been brought into the way of peace,
Despising the world’s wisdom and the world’s desire,
   Which from the body of this death bring no release?

Within their austere walls no voices penetrate;
   A sacred silence only, as of death, obtains;
Nothing finds entry here of loud or passionate;
   This quiet is the exceeding profit of their pain:

From many lands they came, in divers fiery ways;
   Each knew at last the vanity of earthly joys;
And one was crowned with thorns, and one was crowned with bays,
   And each was tired at last of the world’s foolish noise.

It was not theirs with Dominic to preach God’s holy wrath,
   They were too stern to bear sweet Francis’ gentle sway;
Theirs was a higher calling and a steeper path,
   To dwell alone with Christ, to meditate and pray.

A cloistered company, they are companionless,
   None knoweth here the secret of his brother’s heart:
They are but come together for more loneliness,
   Whose bond is solitude and silence all their part.

O beatific life! Who is there shall gainsay,
   Your great refusal’s victory, your little loss,
Deserting vanity for the more perfect way,
   The sweeter service of the most dolorous Cross.

Ye shall prevail at last! Surely ye shall prevail!
   Your silence and austerity shall win at last:
Desire and mirth, the world’s ephemeral lights shall fail,
   The sweet star of your queen is never overcast.

We fling up flowers and laugh, we laugh across the wine;
   With wine we dull our souls and careful strains of art;
Our cups are polished skulls round which the roses twine:
   None dares to look at Death who leers and lurks apart.

Move on, white company, whom that has not sufficed!
   Our viols cease, our wine is death, our roses fail:
Pray for our heedlessness, O dwellers with the Christ!
   Though the world fall apart, surely ye shall prevail.

A Valediction

If we must part,
   Then let it be like this;
Not heart on heart,
   Nor with the useless anguish of a kiss;
But touch mine hand and say:
“Until to-morrow or some other day,
   If we must part.”

Words are so weak
   When love hath been so strong:
Let silence speak:
   “Life is a little while, and love is long;
A time to sow and reap,
And after harvest a long time to sleep,
   But words are weak.”

Chanson sans Paroles

In the deep violet air,
   Not a leaf is stirred;
   There is no sound heard,
But afar, the rare
   Trilled voice of a bird.

Is the wood’s dim heart,
   And the fragrant pine,
   Incense, and a shrine
Of her coming? Apart,
   I wait for a sign.

What the sudden hush said,
   She will hear, and forsake,
   Swift, for my sake,
Her green, grassy bed:
   She will hear and awake!

She will hearken and glide,
   From her place of deep rest,
   Dove-eyed, with the breast
Of a dove, to my side:
   The pines bow their crest.

I wait for a sign:
   The leaves to be waved,
   The tall tree-tops laved
In a flood of sunshine,
   This world to be saved!

In the deep violet air,
   Not a leaf is stirred;
   There is no sound heard,
But afar, the rare
   Trilled voice of a bird.

Memoir [of Ernest Dowson]
by Arthur Symons


The death of Ernest Dowson will mean very little to the world at large, but it will mean a great deal to the few people who care passionately for poetry. A little book of verses, the manuscript of another, a one-act play in verse, a few short stories, two novels written in collaboration, some translations from the French, done for money; that is all that was left by a man who was undoubtedly a man of genius, not a great poet, but a poet, one of the very few writers of our generation to whom that name can be applied in its most intimate sense. People will complain, probably, in his verses, of what will seem to them the factitious melancholy, the factitious idealism, and (peeping through at a few rare moments) the factitious suggestions of riot. They will see only a literary affectation, where in truth there is as genuine a note of personal sincerity as in the more explicit and arranged confessions of less admirable poets. Yes, in these few evasive, immaterial snatches of song, I find, implied for the most part, hidden away like a secret, all the fever and turmoil and the unattained dreams of a life which had itself so much of the swift, disastrous, and suicidal impetus of genius.

Ernest Christopher Dowson was born at The Grove, Belmont Hill, Lee, Kent, on August 2nd, 1867; he died at 26 Sandhurst Gardens, Catford, S.E., on Friday morning, February 23, 1900, and was buried in the Roman Catholic part of the Lewisham Cemetery on February 27. His great-uncle was Alfred Domett, Browning's "Waring," at one time Prime Minister of New Zealand, and author of "Ranolf and Amohia," and other poems. His father, who had himself a taste for literature, lived a good deal in France and on the Riviera, on account of the delicacy of his health, and Ernest had a somewhat irregular education, chiefly out of England, before he entered Queen's College, Oxford. He left in 1887 without taking a degree, and came to London, where he lived for several years, often revisiting France, which was always his favourite country. Latterly, until the last year of his life, he lived almost entirely in Paris, Brittany, and Normandy. Never robust, and always reckless with himself, his health had been steadily getting worse for some years, and when he came back to London he looked, as indeed he was, a dying man. Morbidly shy, with a sensitive independence which shrank from any sort of obligation, he would not communicate with his relatives, who would gladly have helped him, or with any of the really large number of attached friends whom he had in London; and, as his disease weakened him more and more, he hid himself away in his miserable lodgings, refused to see a doctor, let himself half starve, and was found one day in a Bodega with only a few shillings in his pocket, and so weak as to be hardly able to walk, by a friend, himself in some difficulties, who immediately took him back to the bricklayer's cottage in a muddy outskirt of Catford, where he was himself living, and there generously looked after him for the last six weeks of his life.

He did not realise that he was going to die; and was full of projects for the future, when the £600 which was to come to him from the sale of some property should have given him a fresh chance in the world; began to read Dickens, whom he had never read before, with singular zest; and, on the last day of his life, sat up talking eagerly till five in the morning. At the very moment of his death he did not know that he was dying. He tried to cough, could not cough, and the heart quietly stopped.


I cannot remember my first meeting with Ernest Dowson. It may have been in 1891, at one of the meetings of the Rhymers' Club, in an upper room of the "Cheshire Cheese," where long clay pipes lay in slim heaps on the wooden tables, between tankards of ale; and young poets, then very young, recited their own verses to one another with a desperate and ineffectual attempt to get into key with the Latin Quarter, Though few of us were, as a matter of fact, Anglo-Saxon, we could not help feeling that we were in London, and the atmosphere of London is not the atmosphere of movements or of societies. In Paris it is the most natural thing in the world to meet and discuss literature, ideas, one's own and one another's work; and it can be done without pretentiousness or constraint, because, to the Latin mind, art, ideas, one's work and the work of one's friends, are definite and important things, which it would never occur to any one to take anything but seriously. In England art has to be protected not only against the world, but against one's self and one's fellow artist, by a kind of affected modesty which is the Englishman's natural pose, half pride and half self-distrust. So this brave venture of the Rhymers' Club, though it lasted for two or three years, and produced two little books of verse which will some day be literary curiosities, was not quite a satisfactory kind of cènacle. Dowson, who enjoyed the real thing so much in Paris, did not, I think, go very often; but his contributions to the first book of the club were at once the most delicate and the most distinguished poems which it contained. Was it, after all, at one of these meetings that I first saw him, or was it, perhaps, at another haunt of some of us at that time, a semi-literary tavern near Leicester Square, chosen for its convenient position between two stage-doors? It was at the time when one or two of us sincerely worshipped the ballet; Dowson, alas! never. I could never get him to see that charm in harmonious and coloured movement, like bright shadows seen through the floating gauze of the music, which held me night after night at the two theatres which alone seemed to me to give an amusing colour to one's dreams. Neither the stage nor the stage-door had any attraction for him; but he came to the tavern because it was a tavern, and because he could meet his friends there. Even before that time I have a vague impression of having met him, I forget where, certainly at night; and of having been struck, even then, by a look and manner of pathetic charm, a sort of Keats-like face, the face of a demoralised Keats, and by something curious in the contrast of a manner exquisitely refined, with an appearance generally somewhat dilapidated. That impression was only accentuated later on, when I came to know him, and the manner of his life, much more intimately.

I think I may date my first impression of what one calls "the real man" (as if it were more real than the poet of the disembodied verses!) from an evening in which he first introduced me to those charming supper-houses, open all night through, the cabmen's shelters. I had been talking over another vagabond poet, Lord Rochester, with a charming and sympathetic descendant of that poet, and somewhat late at night we had come upon Dowson and another man wandering aimlessly and excitedly about the streets. He invited us to supper, we did not quite realise where, and the cabman came in with us, as we were welcomed, cordially and without comment, at a little place near the Langham; and, I recollect, very hospitably entertained. The cooking differs, as I found in time, in these supper-houses, but there the rasher was excellent and the cups admirably clean. Dowson was known there, and I used to think he was always at his best in a cabmen's shelter. Without a certain sordidness in his surroundings he was never quite comfortable, never quite himself; and at those places you are obliged to drink nothing stronger than coffee or tea. I liked to see him occasionally, for a change, drinking nothing stronger than coffee or tea. At Oxford, I believe, his favourite form of intoxication had been haschisch; afterwards he gave up this somewhat elaborate experiment in visionary sensations for readier means of oblivion; but he returned to it, I remember, for at least one afternoon, in a company of which I had been the gatherer and of which I was the host. I remember him sitting a little anxiously, with his chin on his breast, awaiting the magic, half-shy in the midst of a bright company of young people whom he had only seen across the footlights. The experience was not a very successful one; it ended in what should have been its first symptom, immoderate laughter.

Always, perhaps, a little consciously, but at least always sincerely, in search of new sensations, my friend found what was for him the supreme sensation in a very passionate and tender adoration of the most escaping of all ideals, the ideal of youth. Cherished, as I imagine, first only in the abstract, this search after the immature, the ripening graces which time can only spoil in the ripening, found itself at the journey's end, as some of his friends thought, a little prematurely. I was never of their opinion. I only saw twice, and for a few moments only, the young girl to whom most of his verses were to be written, and whose presence in his life may be held to account for much of that astonishing contrast between the broad outlines of his life and work. The situation seemed to me of the most exquisite and appropriate impossibility. The daughter of a refugee, I believe of good family, reduced to keeping a humble restaurant in a foreign quarter of London, she listened to his verses, smiled charmingly, under her mother's eyes, on his two years' courtship, and at the end of two years married the waiter instead. Did she ever realise more than the obvious part of what was being offered to her, in this shy and eager devotion? Did it ever mean very much to her to have made and to have killed a poet? She had, at all events, the gift of evoking, and, in its way, of retaining, all that was most delicate, sensitive, shy, typically poetic, in a nature which I can only compare to a weedy garden, its grass trodden down by many feet, but with one small, carefully tended flowerbed, luminous with lilies. I used to think, sometimes, of Verlaine and his "girl-wife," the one really profound passion, certainly, of that passionate career; the charming, child-like creature, to whom he looked back, at the end of his life, with an unchanged tenderness and disappointment: "Vous n'avez rien compris à ma simplicité," as he lamented. In the case of Dowson, however, there was a sort of virginal devotion, as to a Madonna; and I think, had things gone happily, to a conventionally happy ending, he would have felt (dare I say?) that his ideal had been spoilt.

But, for the good fortune of poets, things rarely do go happily with them, or to conventionally happy endings. He used to dine every night at the little restaurant, and I can always see the picture, which I have so often seen through the window in passing: the narrow room with the rough tables, for the most part empty, except in the innermost corner, where Dowson would sit with that singularly sweet and singularly pathetic smile on his lips (a smile which seemed afraid of its right to be there, as if always dreading a rebuff), playing his invariable after-dinner game of cards. Friends would come in during the hour before closing time; and the girl, her game of cards finished, would quietly disappear, leaving him with hardly more than the desire to kill another night as swiftly as possible.

Meanwhile she and the mother knew that the fragile young man who dined there so quietly every day way apt to be quite another sort of person after he had been three hours outside. It was only when his life seemed to have been irretrievably ruined that Dowson quite deliberately abandoned himself to that craving for drink, which was doubtless lying in wait for him in his blood, as consumption was also; it was only latterly, when he had no longer any interest in life, that he really wished to die. But I have never known him when he could resist either the desire or the consequences of drink. Sober, he was the most gentle, in manner the most gentlemanly of men; unselfish to a fault, to the extent of weakness; a delightful companion, charm itself. Under the influence of drink, he became almost literally insane, certainly quite irresponsible. He fell into furious and unreasoning passions; a vocabulary unknown to him at other times sprang up like a whirlwind; he seemed always about to commit some act of absurd violence. Along with that forgetfulness came other memories. As long as he was conscious of himself, there was but one woman for him in the world, and for her he had an infinite tenderness and an infinite respect. When that face faded from him, he saw all the other faces, and he saw no more difference than between sheep and sheep. Indeed, that curious love of the sordid, so common an affectation of the modern decadent, and with him so genuine, grew upon him, and dragged him into more and more sorry corners of a life which was never exactly "gay" to him. His father, when he died, left him in possession of an old dock, where for a time he lived in a mouldering house, in that squalid part of the East End which he came to know so well, and to feel so strangely at home in. He drank the poisonous liquors of those pot-houses which swarm about the docks; he drifted about in whatever company came in his way; he let heedlessness develop into a curious disregard of personal tidiness. In Paris, Les Halles took the place of the docks. At Dieppe, where I saw so much, of him one summer, he discovered strange, squalid haunts about the harbour, where he made friends with amazing innkeepers, and got into rows with the fishermen who came in to drink after midnight. At Brussels, where I was with him at the time of the Kermesse, he flung himself into all that riotous Flemish life, with a zest for what was most sordidly riotous in it. It was his own way of escape from life.

To Dowson, as to all those who have not been "content to ask unlikely gifts in vain," nature, life, destiny, whatever one chooses to call it, that power which is strength to the strong, presented itself as a barrier against which all one's strength only served to dash one to more hopeless ruin. He was not a dreamer; destiny passes by the dreamer, sparing him because he clamours for nothing. He was a child, clamouring for so many things, all impossible. With a body too weak for ordinary existence, he desired all the enchantments of all the senses. With a soul too shy to tell its own secret, except in exquisite evasions, he desired the boundless confidence of love. He sang one tune, over and over, and no one listened to him. He had only to form the most simple wish, and it was denied him. He gave way to ill-luck, not knowing that he was giving way to his own weakness, and he tried to escape from the consciousness of things as they were at the best, by voluntarily choosing to accept them at their worst. For with him it was always voluntary. He was never quite without money; he had a little money of his own, and he had for many years a weekly allowance from a publisher, in return for translations from the French, or, if he chose to do it, original work. He was unhappy, and he dared not think. To unhappy men, thought, if it can be set at work on abstract questions, is the only substitute for happiness; if it has not strength to overleap the barrier which shuts one in upon oneself, it is the one unwearying torture. Dowson had exquisite sensibility, he vibrated in harmony with every delicate emotion; but he had no outlook, he had not the escape of intellect. His only escape, then, was to plunge into the crowd, to fancy that he lost sight of himself as he disappeared from the sight of others. The more he soiled himself at that gross contact, the further would he seem to be from what beckoned to him in one vain illusion after another vain illusion, in the delicate places of the world. Seeing himself moving to the sound of lutes, in some courtly disguise, down an alley of Watteau's Versailles, while he touched finger-tips with a divine creature in rose-leaf silks, what was there left for him, as the dream obstinately refused to realise itself, but a blind flight into some Teniers kitchen, where boors are making merry, without thought of yesterday or to-morrow? There, perhaps, in that ferment of animal life, he could forget life as he dreamed it, with too faint hold upon his dreams to make dreams come true.

For, there is not a dream which may not come true, if we have the energy which makes, or chooses, our own fate. We can always, in this world, get what we want, if we will it intensely and persistently enough. Whether we shall get it sooner or later is the concern of fate; but we shall get it. It may come when we have no longer any use for it, when we have gone on willing it out of habit, or so as not to confess that we have failed. But it will come. So few people succeed greatly because so few people can conceive a great end, and work towards that end without deviating and without tiring. But we all know that the man who works for money day and night gets rich; and the man who works day and night for no matter what kind of material power, gets the power. It is the same with the deeper, more spiritual, as it seems vaguer issues, which make for happiness and every intangible success. It is only the dreams of those light sleepers who dream faintly that do not come true.

We get out of life, all of us, what we bring to it; that, and that only, is what it can teach us. There are men whom Dowson's experiences would have made great men, or great writers; for him they did very little. Love and regret, with here and there the suggestion of an uncomforting pleasure snatched by the way, are all that he has to sing of; and he could have sung of them at much less "expense of spirit," and, one fancies, without the "waste of shame" at all. Think what Villon got directly out of his own life, what Verlaine, what Musset, what Byron, got directly out of their own lives! It requires a strong man to "sin strongly" and profit by it. To Dowson the tragedy of his own life could only have resulted in an elegy. "I have flung roses, roses, riotously with the throng," he confesses in his most beautiful poem; but it was as one who flings roses in a dream, as he passes with shut eyes through an unsubstantial throng. The depths into which he plunged were always waters of oblivion, and he returned forgetting them. He is always a very ghostly lover, wandering in a land of perpetual twilight, as he holds a whispered colloque sentimental with the ghost of an old love:

"Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé, Deux spectres ont acévoquacé le passacé."

It was, indeed, almost a literal unconsciousness, as of one who leads two lives, severed from one another as completely as sleep is from waking. Thus we get in his work very little of the personal appeal of those to whom riotous living, misery, a cross destiny, have been of so real a value. And it is important to draw this distinction, if only for the benefit of those young men who are convinced that the first step towards genius is disorder. Dowson is precisely one of the people who are pointed out as confirming this theory. And yet Dowson was precisely one of those who owed least to circumstances; and, in succumbing to them, he did no more than succumb to the destructive forces which, shut up within him, pulled down the house of life upon his own head.

A soul "unspotted from the world," in a body which one sees visibly soiling under one's eyes; that improbability is what all who knew him saw in Dowson, as his youthful physical grace gave way year by year, and the personal charm underlying it remained unchanged. There never was a simpler or more attaching charm, because there never was a sweeter or more honest nature. It was not because he ever said anything particularly clever or particularly interesting, it was not because he gave you ideas, or impressed you by any strength or originality, that you liked to be with him; but because of a certain engaging quality, which seemed unconscious of itself, which was never anxious to be or to do anything, which simply existed, as perfume exists in a flower. Drink was like a heavy curtain, blotting out everything of a sudden; when the curtain lifted, nothing had changed. Living always that double life, he had his true and his false aspect, and the true life was the expression of that fresh, delicate, and uncontaminated nature which some of us knew in him, and which remains for us, untouched by the other, in every line that he wrote.


Dowson was the only poet I ever knew who cared more for his prose than his verse; but he was wrong, and it is not by his prose that he will live, exquisite as that prose was at its best. He wrote two novels in collaboration with Mr. Arthur Moore: "A Comedy of Masks," in 1893, and "Adrian Rome," in 1899, both done under the influence of Mr. Henry James, both interesting because they were personal studies, and studies of known surroundings, rather than for their actual value as novels. A volume of "Stories and Studies in Sentiment," called "Dilemmas," in which the influence of Mr. Wedmore was felt in addition to the influence of Mr. James, appeared in 1895. Several other short stories, among his best work in prose, have not yet been reprinted from the Savoy. Some translations from the French, done as hack-work, need not be mentioned here, though they were never without some traces of his peculiar quality of charm in language. The short stories were indeed rather "studies in sentiment" than stories; studies of singular delicacy, but with only a faint hold on life, so that perhaps the best of them was not unnaturally a study in the approaches of death: "The Dying of Francis Donne." For the most part they dealt with the same motives as the poems, hopeless and reverent love, the ethics of renunciation, the disappointment of those who are too weak or too unlucky to take what they desire. They have a sad and quiet beauty of their own, the beauty of second thoughts and subdued emotions, of choice and scholarly English, moving in the more fluid and reticent harmonies of prose almost as daintily as if it were moving to the measure of verse. Dowson's care over English prose was like that of a Frenchman writing his own language with the respect which Frenchmen pay to French. Even English things had to come to him through France, if he was to prize them very highly; and there is a passage in "Dilemmas" which I have always thought very characteristic of his own tastes, as it refers to an "infinitesimal library, a few French novels, an Horace, and some well-thumbed volumes of the modern English poets in the familiar edition of Tauchnitz." He was Latin by all his affinities, and that very quality of slightness, of parsimony almost in his dealings with life and the substance of art, connects him with the artists of Latin races, who have always been so fastidious in their rejection of mere nature, when it comes too nakedly or too clamorously into sight and hearing, and so gratefully content with a few choice things faultlessly done.

And Dowson, in his verse (the "Verses" of 1896, "The Pierrot of the Minute," a dramatic phantasy in one act, of 1897, the posthumous volume "Decorations"), was the same scrupulous artist as in his prose, and more felicitously at home there. He was quite Latin in his feeling for youth, and death, and "the old age of roses," and the pathos of our little hour in which to live and love; Latin in his elegance, reticence, and simple grace in the treatment of these motives; Latin, finally, in his sense of their sufficiency for the whole of one's mental attitude. He used the commonplaces of poetry frankly, making them his own by his belief in them: the Horatian Cynara or Neobule was still the natural symbol for him when he wished to be most personal. I remember his saying to me that his ideal of a line of verse was the line of Poe:

"The viol, the violet, and the vine";

and the gracious, not remote or unreal beauty, which clings about such words and such images as these, was always to him the true poetical beauty. There never was a poet to whom verse came more naturally, for the song's sake; his theories were all æsthetic, almost technical ones, such as a theory, indicated by his preference for the line of Poe, that the letter "v" was the most beautiful of the letters, and could never be brought into verse too often. For any more abstract theories he had neither tolerance nor need. Poetry as a philosophy did not exist for him; it existed solely as the loveliest of the arts. He loved the elegance of Horace, all that was most complex in the simplicity of Poe, most birdlike in the human melodies of Verlaine. He had the pure lyric gift, unweighted or unballasted by any other quality of mind or emotion; and a song, for him, was music first, and then whatever you please afterwards, so long as it suggested, never told, some delicate sentiment, a sigh or a caress; finding words, at times, as perfect as the words of a poem headed, "O Mors! quam amara est memoria tua homini pacem habenti in substantiis suis."

There, surely, the music of silence speaks, if it has ever spoken. The words seem to tremble back into the silence which their whisper has interrupted, but not before they have created for us a mood, such a mood as the Venetian Pastoral of Giorgione renders in painting. Languid, half inarticulate, coming from the heart of a drowsy sorrow very conscious of itself, and not less sorrowful because it sees its own face looking mournfully back out of the water, the song seems to have been made by some fastidious amateur of grief, and it has all the sighs and tremors of the mood, wrought into a faultless strain of music. Stepping out of a paradise in which pain becomes so lovely, he can see the beauty which is the other side of madness, and, in a sonnet, "To One in Bedlam," can create a more positive, a more poignant mood, with fine subtlety.

Here, in the moment's intensity of this comradeship with madness, observe how beautiful the whole thing becomes; how instinctively the imagination of the poet turns what is sordid into a radiance, all stars and flowers and the divine part of forgetfulness! It is a symbol of the two sides of his own life: the side open to the street, and the side turned away from it, where he could "hush and bless himself with silence." No one ever worshipped beauty more devoutly, and just as we see him here transfiguring a dreadful thing with beauty, so we shall see, everywhere in his work, that he never admitted an emotion which he could not so transfigure. He knew his limits only too well; he knew that the deeper and graver things of life were for the most part outside the circle of his magic; he passed them by, leaving much of himself unexpressed, because he would not permit himself to express nothing imperfectly, or according to anything but his own conception of the dignity of poetry. In the lyric in which he has epitomised himself and his whole life, a lyric which is certainly one of the greatest lyrical poems of our time, "Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae," he has for once said everything, and he has said it to an intoxicating and perhaps immortal music.

Here, perpetuated by some unique energy of a temperament rarely so much the master of itself, is the song of passion and the passions, at their eternal war in the soul which they quicken or deaden, and in the body which they break down between them. In the second book, the book of "Decorations," there are a few pieces which repeat, only more faintly, this very personal note. Dowson could never have developed; he had already said, in his first book of verse, all that he had to say. Had he lived, had he gone on writing, he could only have echoed himself; and probably it would have been the less essential part of himself; his obligation to Swinburne, always evident, increasing as his own inspiration failed him. He was always without ambition, writing to please his own fastidious taste, with a kind of proud humility in his attitude towards the public, not expecting or requiring recognition. He died obscure, having ceased to care even for the delightful labour of writing. He died young, worn out by what was never really life to him, leaving a little verse which has the pathos of things too young and too frail ever to grow old.


More Poems by Ernest Dowson

After Paul Verlaine—I

Il pleut doucement sur la ville.

Tears fall within mine heart,
As rain upon the town:
Whence does this languor start,
Possessing all mine heart?

O sweet fall of the rain
Upon the earth and roofs!
Unto an heart in pain,
O music of the rain!

Tears that have no reason
Fall in my sorry heart:
What I there was no treason?
This grief hath no reason.

Nay I the more desolate,
Because, I know not why,
(Neither for love nor hate)
Mine heart is desolate.

After Paul Verlaine—II
Colloque Sentimental

Into the lonely park all frozen fast,
Awhile ago there were two forms who passed.

Lo, are their lips fallen and their eyes dead,
Hardly shall a man hear the words they said.

Into the lonely park, all frozen fast,
There came two shadows who recall the past.

“Dost thou remember our old ecstasy?”—
“Wherefore should I possess that memory?”—

“Doth thine heart beat at my sole name alway?
Still dost thou see my soul in visions?” “Nay!”—

“They were fair days of joy unspeakable,
Whereon our lips were joined?”—“I cannot tell.”—

“Were not the heavens blue, was not hope high?”—
“Hope has fled vanquished down the darkling sky.”—

So through the barren oats they wanderèd,
And the night only heard the words they said.

After Paul Verlaine—III

Around were all the roses red,
The ivy all around was black.

Dear, so thou only move thine head,
Shall all mine old despairs awake!

Too blue, too tender was the sky,
The air too soft, too green the sea.

Always I fear, I know not why,
Some lamentable flight from thee.

I am so tired of holly-sprays
And weary of the bright box-tree,

Of all the endless country ways;
Of everything alas! save thee.

After Paul Verlaine—IV

The sky is up above the roof
    So blue, so soft!
A tree there, up above the roof,
    Swayeth aloft.

A bell within that sky we see,
    Chimes low and faint:
A bird upon that tree we see,
    Maketh complaint.

Dear God! is not the life up there,
    Simple and sweet?
How peacefully are borne up there
    Sounds of the street!

What hast thou done, who comest here,
    To weep alway?
Where hast thou laid, who comest here,
    Thy youth away?

Amantium Irae

When this, our rose, is faded,
   And these, our days, are done,
In lands profoundly shaded
   From tempest and from sun;
Ah, once more come together,
   Shall we forgive the past,
And safe from worldly weather
   Possess our souls at last?

Or in our place of shadows
   Shall still we stretch an hand
To green, remembered meadows,
   Of that old pleasant land?
And vainly there foregathered,
   Shall we regret the sun?
The rose of love, ungathered?
   The bay, we have not won?

Ah, child! the world’s dark marges
   May lead to Nevermore,
The stately funeral barges
   Sail for an unknown shore,
And love we vow to-morrow,
   And pride we serve to-day:
What if they both should borrow
   Sad hues of yesterday?

Our pride! Ah, should we miss it,
   Or will it serve at last?
Our anger, if we kiss it,
   Is like a sorrow past.
While roses deck the garden,
   While yet the sun is high,
Doff sorry pride for pardon,
   Or ever love go by.

Amor Umbratilis

A gift of Silence, sweet!
   Who may not ever hear;
To lay down at your unobservant feet,
   Is all the gift I bear.

I have no songs to sing,
   That you should heed or know:
I have no lilies, in full hands, to fling
   Across the path you go.

I cast my flowers away,
   Blossoms unmeet for you!
The garland I have gathered in my day;
   My rosemary and rue.

I watch you pass and pass,
   Serene and cold: I lay
My lips upon your trodden, daisied grass,
   And turn my life away.

Yea, for I cast you, sweet!
   This one gift, you shall take:
Like ointment, on your unobservant feet,
   My silence, for your sake.


Pale amber sunlight falls across
   The reddening October trees,
   That hardly sway before a breeze
As soft as summer: summer’s loss
   Seems little, dear! on days like these.

Let misty autumn be our part!
   The twilight of the year is sweet:
   Where shadow and the darkness meet
Our love, a twilight of the heart
   Eludes a little time’s deceit.

Are we not better and at home
   In dreamful Autumn, we who deem
   No harvest joy is worth a dream?
A little while and night shall come,
   A little while, then, let us dream.

Beyond the pearled horizons lie
   Winter and night: awaiting these
   We garner this poor hour of ease,
Until love turn from us and die
   Beneath the drear November trees.


Love’s aftermath! I think the time is now
That we must gather in, alone, apart
The saddest crop of all the crops that grow,
      Love’s aftermath.
Ah, sweet,—sweet yesterday, the tears that start
Can not put back the dial; this is, I trow,
Our harvesting! Thy kisses chill my heart,
Our lips are cold; averted eyes avow
The twilight of poor love: we can but part,
Dumbly and sadly, reaping as we sow,
      Love’s aftermath.

A Coronal
With His Songs and Her Days to His Lady and to Love

Violets and leaves of vine,
   Into a frail, fair wreath
We gather and entwine:
   A wreath for Love to wear,
   Fragrant as his own breath,
To crown his brow divine,
   All day till night is near.
Violets and leaves of vine
We gather and entwine.

Violets and leaves of vine
   For Love that lives a day,
We gather and entwine.
   All day till Love is dead,
   Till eve falls, cold and gray,
These blossoms, yours and mine,
   Love wears upon his head.
Violets and leaves of vine
We gather and entwine.

Violets and leaves of vine,
   For Love when poor Love dies
We gather and entwine.
   This wreath that lives a day
   Over his pale, cold eyes,
Kissed shut by Proserpine,
   At set of sun we lay:
Violets and leaves of vine
We gather and entwine.

De Amore

Shall one be sorrowful because of love,
   Which hath no earthly crown,
   Which lives and dies, unknown?
Because no words of his shall ever move
   Her maiden heart to own
   Him lord and destined master of her own;
Is Love so weak a thing as this,
   Who can not lie awake,
   Solely for his own sake,
For lack of the dear hands to hold, the lips to kiss,
      A mere heart-ache?

Nay, though love’s victories be great and sweet,
   Nor vain and foolish toys,
   His crowned, earthly joys,
Is there no comfort then in love’s defeat?
   Because he shall defer,
   For some short span of years all part in her,
   Submitting to forego
   The certain peace which happier lovers know;
Because he shall be utterly disowned,
   Nor length of service bring
   Her least awakening:
Foiled, frustrate and alone, misunderstood discrowned,
      Is Love less King?

Grows not the world to him a fairer place,
   How far soever his days
   Pass from his lady’s ways,
From mere encounter with her golden face?
   Though all his sighing be vain,
   Shall he be heavy-hearted and complain?
Is she not still a star,
Deeply to be desired, worshipped afar,
   A beacon-light to aid
   From bitter-sweet delights, Love’s masquerade?
Though he lose many things,
   Though much he miss:
The heart upon his heart, the hand that clings,
   The memorable first kiss;
Love that is love at all,
Needs not an earthly coronal;
Love is himself his own exceeding great reward,
      A mighty lord!

Lord over life and all the ways of breath,
   Mighty and strong to save
   From the devouring grave;
Yea, whose dominion doth out-tyrant death,
   Thou who art life and death in one,
   The night, the sun;
Who art, when all things seem:
   Foiled, frustrate and forlorn, rejected of to-day
   Go with me all my way,
And let me not blaspheme.

Extreme Unction

Upon the eyes, the lips, the feet,
   On all the passages of sense,
The atoning oil is spread with sweet
   Renewal of lost innocence.

The feet, that lately ran so fast
   To meet desire, are soothly sealed;
The eyes, that were so often cast
   On vanity, are touched and healed.

From troublous sights and sounds set free;
   In such a twilight hour of breath,
Shall one retrace his life, or see,
   Through shadows, the true face of death?

Vials of mercy! Sacring oils!
   I know not where nor when I come,
Nor through what wanderings and toils,
   To crave of you Viaticum.

Yet, when the walls of flesh grow weak,
   In such an hour, it well may be,
Through mist and darkness, light will break,
   And each anointed sense will see.

Flos Lunae

I would not alter thy cold eyes,
Nor trouble the calm fount of speech
With aught of passion or surprise.
The heart of thee I cannot reach:
I would not alter thy cold eyes!

I would not alter thy cold eyes;
Nor have thee smile, nor make thee weep;
Though all my life droops down and dies,
Desiring thee, desiring sleep,
I would not alter thy cold eyes.

I would not alter thy cold eyes;
I would not change thee if I might,
To whom my prayers for incense rise,
Daughter of dreams! my moon of night!
I would not alter thy cold eyes.

I would not alter thy cold eyes,
With trouble of the human heart:
Within their glance my spirit lies,
A frozen thing, alone, apart;
I would not alter thy cold eyes.

Sapientia Lunae

The wisdom of the world said unto me;
   “Go forth and run, the race is to the brave;
Perchance some honour tarrieth for thee!”
   “As tarrieth,” I said, “for sure, the grave.”
      For I had pondered on a rune of roses,
      Which to her votaries the moon discloses.

The wisdom of the world said: “There are bays:
   Go forth and run, for victory is good,
After the stress of the laborious days.”
   “Yet,” said I, “shall I be the worms’ sweet food,”
      As I went musing on a rune of roses,
      Which in her hour, the pale, soft moon discloses.

Then said my voices: “Wherefore strive or run,
   On dusty highways ever, a vain race?
The long night cometh, starless, void of sun,
   What light shall serve thee like her golden face?”
      For I had pondered on a rune of roses,
      And knew some secrets which the moon discloses.

“Yea,” said I, “for her eyes are pure and sweet
   As lilies, and the fragrance of her hair
Is many laurels; and it is not meet
   To run for shadows when the prize is here”;
      And I went reading in that rune of roses
      Which to her votaries the moon discloses.


Come not before me now, O visionary face!
Me tempest-tost, and borne along life’s passionate sea;
Troublous and dark and stormy though my passage be;
Not here and now may we commingle or embrace,
Lest the loud anguish of the waters should efface
The bright illumination of thy memory,
Which dominates the night; rest, far away from me,
In the serenity of thine abiding-place!

But when the storm is highest, and the thunders blare,
And sea and sky are riven, O moon of all my night!
Stoop down but once in pity of my great despair,
And let thine hand, though over late to help, alight
But once upon my pale eyes and my drowning hair,
Before the great waves conquer in the last vain fight.

Vain Resolves

I said: “There is an end of my desire:
   Now have I sown, and I have harvested,
And these are ashes of an ancient fire,
   Which, verily, shall not be quickened.
Now will I take me to a place of peace,
        Forget mine heart’s desire;
In solitude and prayer, work out my soul’s release.

“I shall forget her eyes, how cold they were;
   Forget her voice, how soft it was and low,
With all my singing that she did not hear,
   And all my service that she did not know.
I shall not hold the merest memory
         Of any days that were,
Within those solitudes where I will fasten me.”

And once she passed, and once she raised her eyes,
   And smiled for courtesy, and nothing said:
And suddenly the old flame did uprise,
   And all my dead desire was quickened.
Yea! as it hath been, it shall ever be,
         Most passionless, pure eyes!
Which never shall grow soft, nor change, nor pity me.


Beyond the need of weeping,
   Beyond the reach of hands,
May she be quietly sleeping,
   In what dim nebulous lands?
Ah, she who understands!

The long, long winter weather,
   These many years and days,
Since she, and Death, together,
   Left me the wearier ways:
And now, these tardy bays!

The crown and victor’s token!
   How are they worth to-day?
The one word left unspoken,
   It were late now to say:
But cast the palm away!

For once, ah once, to meet her,
   Drop laurel from tired hands:
Her cypress were the sweeter,
   In her oblivious lands:
Haply she understands!

Yet, crossed that weary river,
   In some ulterior land,
Or anywhere, or ever,
   Will she stretch out a hand?
And will she understand?

Villanelle of Acheron

By the pale marge of Acheron,
   Methinks we shall pass restfully,
Beyond the scope of any sun.

There all men hie them one by one,
   Far from the stress of earth and sea,
By the pale marge of Acheron.

’Tis well when life and love is done,
   ’Tis very well at last to be,
Beyond the scope of any sun.

No busy voices there shall stun
   Our ears: the stream flows silently
By the pale marge of Acheron.

There is the crown of labour won,
   The sleep of immortality,
Beyond the scope of any sun.

Life, of thy gifts I will have none,
   My queen is that Persephone,
By the pale marge of Acheron,
   Beyond the scope of any sun.

Villanelle of Marguerites

   “A little, passionately, not at all?”
   She casts the snowy petals on the air:
And what care we how many petals fall!

   Nay, wherefore seek the seasons to forestall?
   It is but playing, and she will not care,
A little, passionately, not at all!

   She would not answer us if we should call
   Across the years: her visions are too fair;
And what care we how many petals fall!

   She knows us not, nor recks if she enthrall
   With voice and eyes and fashion of her hair,
A little, passionately, not at all!

   Knee-deep she goes in meadow grasses tall,
   Kissed by the daisies that her fingers tear:
And what care we how many petals fall!

   We pass and go: but she shall not recall
   What men we were, nor all she made us bear:
“A little, passionately, not at all!”
And what care we how many petals fall!

Villanelle of Sunset

   Come hither, Child! and rest:
   This is the end of day,
Behold the weary West!

   Sleep rounds with equal zest
   Man's toil and children's play;
Come hither, Child! and rest.

   My white bird, seek thy nest,
   Thy drooping head down lay:
Behold the weary West!

   Now are the flowers confest
   Of slumber: sleep, as they!
Come hither, Child! and rest.

   Now eve is manifest,
   And homeward lies our way:
Behold the weary West!

   Tired flower I upon my breast,
   I would wear thee alway:
Come hither, Child! and rest;
Behold, the weary West!

Villanelle of the Poet’s Road

Wine and woman and song,
   Three things garnish our way:
Yet is day over long.

Lest we do our youth wrong,
   Gather them while we may:
Wine and woman and song.

Three things render us strong,
   Vine leaves, kisses and bay;
Yet is day over long.

Unto us they belong,
   Us the bitter and gay,
Wine and woman and song.

We, as we pass along,
   Are sad that they will not stay;
Yet is day over long.

Fruits and flowers among,
   What is better than they:
Wine and woman and song?
   Yet is day over long.


Love wine and beauty and the spring,
   While wine is red and spring is here,
And through the almond blossoms ring
   The dove-like voices of thy Dear.

Love wine and spring and beauty while
   The wine hath flavour and spring masks
Her treachery in so soft a smile
   That none may think of toil and tasks.

But when spring goes on hurrying feet,
   Look not thy sorrow in the eyes,
And bless thy freedom from thy sweet:
   This is the wisdom of the wise.

The HyperTexts