Vitæ summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam - Horace

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,

Love, 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 stream

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within a dream.


Ernest Dowson, 1896



Ernest Dowson (1867-1900) was an English poet whose passion and despair
revolved around a girl, Adelaide (Cynara), whom he first met when she was eleven.

He wrote some of his best work for her, but she, unable to relate to his verse or return his passion,
married a tailor - and Dowson spent the rest of his short life bereft and adrift.

The title of this celebration of brevity is from Horace's Ode I: Life's brevity prevents
us from fulfilling our potential.


Dowson was a friend of Yeats, of Symons, of Gide and Verlaine, amongst others.
As with Verlaine, alcohol was more a master than a friend, and he had constant sad recourse,
when in France, to absinthe, which he referred to as Opaline.
Like Verlaine, his personal appearance and hygiene disgusted the bourgeois,
though his poetry was well-received.
He attended Verlaine's funeral,
and was one of the very few supporters and final friends of Oscar Wilde.

'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 help 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...'

from DREGS, 1898

Dowson is mentioned in the great Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night,
and Michael Moorcock acknowledged his influence in his Dancers at the End of Time trilogy,
using two lines of Dowson's as titles: The Hollow Lands and The End of All Songs.

The final line of Jad Adams' biography, Madder Music, Stronger Wine (2000) is:

'Life presented him with suffering, and he returned it with beauty.'


'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...'

from A LAST WORD, 1899.