Ernest Christopher Dowson (2 August 1867 – 23 February 1900), an English poet who was associated with the Decadent movement, was born at Lee, south-east of London. He attended The Queen's College, Oxford, but left before obtaining a degree.
In November 1888, he started work at Dowson and Son, his father's new dry-docking business. 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 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.
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.
In 1891, Dowson fell in love with twelve-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 1893, she married a waiter in her father's restaurant, and Dowson was crushed. In 1895, his parents both committed suicide, 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 (or some say of tuberculosis) at the age of 32.
Today he is best remembered for some vivid phrases, such as days of wine and roses from his poem Vitae Summa Brevis, 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 is the last line of all four stanzas of the poem, and was the inspiration for the song title Always True to You in My Fashion from Kiss Me, Kate by Cole Porter.
- Madder Music, Stronger Wine by Jad Adams (I.B. Tauris).
- See also sections in: Madonnas and Magdalens - the origins and developments of Victorian sexual attitudes. London. Eric Trudgill. (Heinemann, 1976).
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