Friday 30 September 2016

Poetry: Infatuation that inspired devotion

Published 20/12/2015 | 02:30

Ulick O'Connor
Ulick O'Connor

Ernest Dowson used to sit in the corner of the Cheshire Cheese pub in London drinking glass after glass of whiskey, murmuring as he did. "This is the first today."

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This was in the 1890s in ­London, a decade where doomed poets and artists died early like Francis Thompson (48), Audrey Beardsley (26) and Oscar Wilde (44). Willie Yeats thought highly of Dowson as a poet, ­maintaining that his best verse ''was immortal and would outlive famous novels, plays and learned histories".

Yeats acted as a sort of minder for the tiny Englishman and wasn't upset when telegrams would arrive from France from Dowson asking for help: "Arrested, sell my watch and send proceeds."

Dowson was infatuated with the young daughter of an Italian restaurant owner and conferred on her iconic status.

Her indifference to his love provided the inspiration for his best poem, Cynara. Perhaps if she'd responded more generously he might never have written it.

Ernest Dowson died in London in 1900 at the age of 33 having contributed certain phrases to the English language like "days of wine and roses" and "gone with the wind". The latter appears in the first line of the third verse below.

Cyrara

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.

Ernest Dowson 1867-1900

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