A poet in focus: Ernest Christopher Dowson #poetry

Ernest Dowson (2nd August 1867– 23rd February 1900) was a poet, novelist and short story writer of the Decadent movement, but his life was far from decadent; it was terribly tragic and painfully sad.

In 1889 he fell in love with an 11 year Polish girl (she was the daughter of a Soho restaurant owner) whom he courted for 2 years and then proposed to; she said ‘No!’ and promptly broke his tender heart aged 23 years. A friend thereafter said of him, “Dowson could never recover his fragile hope on life and love.”

In 1894 his father suffering from tuberculosis, overdosed on chloral hydrate.

In 1895 his mother suffering from consumption, hanged herself.

For a while he visited France and Ireland: W.B Yeats described him as “timid, silent and a little melancholy.”

By 1898 he was back in London, a penniless alcoholic in a bar, and despite a short rescue and respite, he died in February 1900.  

Oscar Wilde (who would also die in 1900, alone & exiled in Paris) said of him “poor wounded wonderful fellow that he was, a tragic reproduction of all tragic poetry, like a symbol or a scene…he knew what love was.”

Out of this miserable existence, in which life is sacrificed for art, Dowson wrote some very vivid phrases:

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

Out of the misty dream 

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within the dream.’

from Vitae Summa Brevis, 1896


‘…gone with the wind’ …

‘I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! In my fashion.’

From Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae, third stanza, 1894
Margaret Mitchell was touched by the “far away, faintly sad sound I wanted.”

Thus ‘Gone With The Wind’ became the title of her grand novel and in 1939 David O’ Selznick’s film was born.
In 1919 Arthur Symons wrote his memoirs: ‘The Poems & Prose of Ernest Dowson.’

“Undoubtedly he was a man of genius…there never was a poet to whom verse came more naturally…he had the pure lyric gift.”

I’m sure Dowson would have happily exchanged genius for happiness, and his romantic dreams for real life love and companionship.

115 years after his death there are new issues and traumas to face in life and the question of finding love is still a complicated and difficult one.

“…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.”


2 thoughts on “A poet in focus: Ernest Christopher Dowson #poetry

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