The first stanza of Ernest Dowson's "In a Breton Cemetery," which comments upon the harsh life of Breton "fisher-folk," puts me in mind of a poem by Arthur Symons, Dowson's fellow Nineties poet. Symons's best-known poems are set in the usual urban Decadent haunts: London, Paris, Venice, et cetera. But Symons also spent a fair amount of time in out-of-the-way seaside towns in England, Wales, and Ireland, and these places find their way into a number of his poems. (With the requisite twilit, grey-tinted melancholia and world-weariness of the Decadents still intact, of course.)
The Fisher's Widow
The boats go out and the boats come in
Under the wintry sky;
And the rain and foam are white in the wind,
And the white gulls cry.
She sees the sea when the wind is wild
Swept by the windy rain;
And her heart's a-weary of sea and land
As the long days wane.
She sees the torn sails fly in the foam,
Broad on the skyline grey;
And the boats go out and the boats come in,
But there's one away.
Arthur Symons, Days and Nights (1889).
I like the recurrence of "the boats go out and the boats come in": as with the movement of the tide. The alliteration throughout the poem seems to embody the sound and the motion of the sea as well: "wintry sky;/ . . . white in the wind,/And the white gulls cry." And: "She sees the sea when the wind is wild/Swept by the windy rain."
I wonder about line 8: "As the long days wane." The source would seem to be Tennyson's well-known lines in "Ulysses": "The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep/Moans round with many voices." Symons, like most Victorian poets, was brought up on Tennyson's verse. Was this a conscious or an unconscious borrowing? I suspect that it was done in homage to Tennyson, but that is just a guess.