Friday, March 06, 2009

love and desire and hate

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.
This poem is the fourth in T.E. Lawrence's commonplace book, Minorities. The author is Ernest Dowson. In published form it is headed Vit{ae} Summa Brevis Spem nos Vetet Incohare Longam. The phrase comes from Horace: "the brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long." It's unclear whether Dowson intended it as epigraph or title.

In 1928, Lawrence wrote his friend Charlotte Shaw: " ... when I think of lives for which I am very grate­ful: for poor Dowson, who wrote ten lovely poems, and died; for Rossetti, who wrote a few more, and died; for Coleridge, who wrote for two years, and then ran dry; why surely duration and bulk aren't the first considerations?" (letter 17.V.28 to C. F. Shaw. Quoted by the editor of Minorities, Jeremy Wilson)

Dowson is one of the minor poets whose work Lawrence chose to write out and keep by him those, as he said, who wrote in a minor key and whose lines nonetheless sing. Lawrence wrote Shaw that Dowson was not great, in fact quite small, but was a better "singer" for not being great, for, he said, "Singing is not a great art: it is incompatible with greatness, almost." (also quoted by the editor of Minorities, Jeremy Wilson)

Lawrence was prescient in calling Dowson a singer since memorable phrases in his poems ended up in songs ("Wine and Roses" and, from another poem, "I have been faithful ... in my fashion." Another phrase of his, "gone with the wind," ended up as title to the famous book. He experienced much tragedy in his life so it is not surprising that his songs were not upbeat.

{Text in Lawrence's hand from Minorities; click to view full image}

{Portrait of Dowson by William Rothenstein on VictorianWeb}

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).

Ernest Dowson: An Overview on VictorianWeb

Selected Poetry of Ernest Dowson

Dowson, Ernest Christopher, 1867-1900 in project Gutenberg

Ernest Dowson Biography

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