Thursday, December 13, 2007

Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae

by Ernest Dowson

Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
When I awoke and found the dawn was gray:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

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.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, hungry for thelips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee Cynara! in my fashion.

* * *

Another one by Ernest Dowson. Some people might object to this poem on moral grounds. I don't: I think it makes perfectly clear how unsatisfying is the wild life the speaker is living. Sure, the pros.titute, the dancing, and the wine are pleasant, and yet we see how impossible it is that the speaker could find peace within these things.

The attitude of the poem is one common in the modern age. People seek madder music, stronger wine, more satisfaction of their desires, and we imagine that they enjoy it. Yet often they are only doing these things to run away from their inner emptiness. We can see how little it works. What the speaker really wants are the "lilies," the pure innocence, of his love; the roses of pleasure will not satisfy.

The title means, "I am not how I was under the reign of the good Cynara." It's a quote from one of Horace's odes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting and perhaps useful for a reference, thanks...

Oh, oh! a GKC connection here - and a poetic one, too!!!

"Dolores Replies to Swinburne"

Cold passions, and perfectly cruel,
Long odes that go on for an hour,
With a most economical jewel
And a quite metaphorical flower.
I implore you to stop it and stow it,
I adjure you, relent and refrain,
Oh, pagan Priapean poet,
You give me a pain.

I am sorry, old dear, if I hurt you,
No doubt it is all very nice
With the lilies and languors of virtue
And the raptures and roses of vice.
But the notion impels me to anger,
That vice is all rapture for me,
And if you think virtue is languor
Just try it and see.

We shall know when the critics discover
If your poems were shallow or deep;
Who read you from cover to cover,
Will know if they sleep not or sleep.
But you say I've endured through the ages
(Which is rude) as Our Lady of Pain,
You have said it for several pages,
So say it again.

in his "Answers to the Poets"....

Emphasis added. A great line.

And if we might conjoin a mixed metaphor (not the right term) when GKC answered whoever about going out not with a whimper but with a bang, we should recall that the whole Source of Virtue Himself CAME with the wind:

"And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming: and it filled the whole house where they were sitting."
[Acts 2:2]

--Dr. Thursday.