Ernest Christopher Dowson (2 August 1867 – 23 February 1900 / London / England)
Biography of Ernest Christopher Dowson
Ernest Christopher Dowson, born in Lee, London, was an English poet, novelist and writer of short stories, associated with the Decadent movement.
He received some of his education in France, and in 1866 entered Queen's College, Oxford. Having read considerably and widely, Dowson left without obtaining a degree. He went to London where he joined the literary circle of Aubrey Beardsley, Oscar Wilde, and their friends. He was also one of the Rhymers' Club and contributed to The Books of the Rhymers' Club (1892 and 1894), The Yellow Book and The Savoy. In 1891 he met 'Missie' Adelaide Foltinowicz, a twelve-year-old who later became a key image of innocence and lost love in his poetry.
In September 1891 he converted to Roman Catholicism, which is reflected in his devotional poetry, such as 'Nuns of the Perpetual Adoration' and 'Carthusians'. These were his most successful poems. His father died in 1894 having suffered from advanced tuberculosis. Within months of his death, Dowson's mother hanged herself. A number of stories called Dilemas appeared in 1895. After this, Dowson travelled between London, France and Ireland, drinking heavily. He published the first of his two books of poetry, Verses, in 1896, which included the acclaimed 'Non Sum Qualis Eram' or 'Cynara', and the second, Decorations in Verse and Prose in 1899. His one-act verse play, The Pierrot of the Minute came out in 1897. In addition, he translated Voltaire, Zola and Balzac. Amongst his verse which celebrates nature is 'Breton Afternoon', and the poems representing weariness and the monotony of life include 'Vitae Summa Brevis' and 'To One in Bedlam'.
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.
In anticipation of the anniversary of Dowson's birth on August 2, 2010, his grave, which had fallen derelict and been victimized by vandalism, was restored. The unveiling and memorial service were publicised in the local (South London Press) and national (BBC Radio 4 and the Times Literary Supplement) British press, and dozens paid posthumous tribute to the poet 110 years after his death.
Dowson is best remembered for some vivid phrases, such as "days of wine and roses" from his poem "Vitae Summa Brevis" (1896), which appears in the stanza:
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.
and "gone with the wind", from Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae, the third stanza of which reads:
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.
The last line of this stanza, the last line of all four stanzas of the poem, was the inspiration for the song title "Always True to You in My Fashion" from Kiss Me, Kate by Cole Porter.
In her words, it was the "far away, faintly sad sound I wanted" of the third stanza's first line that inspired Margaret Mitchell to call her only novel Gone with the Wind.
He provides the earliest use of the word soccer in written language in the Oxford English Dictionary (although he spells it socca, presumably because it did not yet have a standard written form).
His prose works include the short stories collected as Dilemmas (1895), and the two novels A Comedy of Masks and Adrian Rome (each co-written with Arthur Moore). Some of his short prose was first published in the journal The Yellow Book
Ernest Christopher Dowson's Works:
Ernest Dowson, The Stories of Ernest Dowson, ed. by Mark Longaker (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1947)
Ernest Dowson, The Poems of Ernest Dowson, ed. by Mark Longaker (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962)
Ernest Dowson, The Letters of Ernest Dowson, ed. by Desmond Flower and Henry Maas (London: Cassell, 1967)
Ernest Dowson, The Poetry of Ernest Dowson, ed. by Desmond Flower (Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1970)
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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 day is done,
And when Love is not.