Please bear with me as I stay in the 1890s a moment longer. Ernest Dowson's "Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam" is reminiscent of "The Soul's Progress," a sonnet by Dowson's fellow Decadent, Arthur Symons (he of "grey" and "twilight"). Symons's poem was published in 1889, seven years prior to the publication of "Vitae summa brevis." I am not suggesting that "The Soul's Progress" was a direct influence on Dowson. However, the two poems do, I think, show the common dreamy world inhabited by the Decadents.
The Soul's Progress
It enters life it knows not whence; there lies
A mist behind it and a mist before.
It stands between a closed and open door.
It follows hope, yet feeds on memories.
The years are with it, and the years are wise;
It learns the mournful lesson of their lore.
It hears strange voices from an unknown shore,
Voices that will not answer to its cries.
Blindly it treads dim ways that wind and twist;
It sows for knowledge, and it gathers pain;
Stakes all on love, and loses utterly.
Then, going down into the darker mist,
Naked, and blind, and blown with wind and rain,
It staggers out into eternity.
Arthur Symons, Days and Nights (1889).
Come to think of it, Symons, like Dowson, echoes Christina Rossetti, a non-Decadent if ever there was one. "Stakes all on love, and loses utterly" is perhaps a line that Rossetti would particularly sympathize with.