Valentine’s Day 2016- In the Reign of Cynara

English Poet Ernest Dowson (2 August 1867 – 23 February 1900) liked poetry, wine, and his muses on the pubescent side. He is believed to have coined the phrases “Days of wine and roses” and “Gone with the wind” in his poetry. He died at age 32, probably of complications of lifestyle. Fellow poete maudit Oscar Wilde eulogized him as:

“Poor wounded wonderful fellow that he was, a tragic reproduction of all tragic poetry, like a symbol, or a scene. I hope bay leaves will be laid on his tomb and rue and myrtle too for he knew what love was”

 

Picture - Steve Dallas

Gustav Dore-style engraving of Dowson, (c’mon, use your imagination) at the writing desk, in a moment ‘twixt libation and inspiration

 

Dowson left us this – the only Valentine’s Day poem you will ever need.

Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae

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 the lips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

“And I am desolate and sick of an old passion.” Yes, anyone who has ever loved, from a great distance and without hope, should understand. I doubt Cynara even knew who Dowson was and I’d bet the only thing she knew about “poetry” was that it was hard to spell, but there is no explanation for these things and really, there need be none.

“In the reign of Cynara, kind and fair” is the English translation of the poem’s title. I think Dowson way too kind. (Dowson’s title was taken from a line in a poem by the Roman poet Horace.)  Muses come not to create but to destroy. You get to try and make something out of your own ashes after that.  Have fun with that. Let me know how it goes.

Dowson died on February 23, 1900. I like to think that he died on Valentine’s Day, just that he was so goddamn besotted with wine and an old muse he didn’t realize it until the 23rd . Either that or no one noticed until the 23rd, and that was the day they used.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Steve

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One thought on “Valentine’s Day 2016- In the Reign of Cynara

  1. Solid observations, sir. Too bad you weren’t in my Victorian Poetry and Poetics class back in the Devonian Era. You would have loved it.

    On muses: true, they come to destroy. Ironically, though, the destruction causes us to create. Happy V-Day, man.

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