Monday, August 02, 2010

Ernest Dowson

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam

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.

The English poet Ernest Dowson was born on this day in 1867. The Poet and Author died penniless in an Absinthe haze, having created some of the best poetry of the decedent era. However his words are often not known as his own, lines such as "Gone With the Wind" which is better known as the name of a film, rather than a line from an outstanding poem.– they say he coined "Absinthe makes the tart grow fonder" – but he is regarded as one of the more talented of the turn-of-the-century Decadents. His friend Arthur Symons says he was "morbidly shy" and W. B. Yeats, another who knew him in the famous Rhymers' Club, described him as "a little melancholy."
Dowson attended The Queen's College, Oxford, but left before obtaining a degree. He led as active a social life as he could, carousing with medical students and law pupils, going to music halls, taking the performers to dinner, and so forth. At the same time he was working assiduously at his writing. He was a member of the Rhymers' Club, which included W. B. Yeats and Lionel Johnson. He was also a frequent contributor to the literary magazines The Yellow Book and The Savoy. Dowson collaborated on a couple of unsuccessful novels with Arthur Moore, was working on his own novel Madame de Viole, and was working as an unpaid reviewer for The Critic.
In 1889, at the age of twenty-three, Dowson fell in love with eleven-year-old Adelaide "Missie" Foltinowicz, the daughter of a Polish restaurant owner. Adelaide is reputed to be the subject of one his best-known poems, Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae. He pursued her unsuccessfully; in 1897, she married a tailor who lodged above the restaurant, and Dowson was crushed. In August 1894, his father, who was in the advanced stages of tuberculosis, died of an overdose of chloral hydrate. His mother, who was also consumptive, hanged herself in February 1895, and Dowson began to decline rapidly.
Robert Sherard one day found Dowson almost penniless in a wine bar and took him back to the cottage in Catford where he was himself living. Dowson spent the last six weeks of his life at Sherard's cottage and died there of alcoholism at the age of 32. He is buried in the Roman Catholic section of nearby Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries.

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