Thursday, October 25, 2012


I cannot let October slip away without once again visiting the 1890s.  I began the month with two twilight poems by Arthur Symons.  The following poem is by Ernest Dowson.  If Symons is the Nineties poet of twilight, then Dowson is the Nineties poet of dreams and mist.  As one might expect, they are both quite at home when it comes to Doomed Love.

                           Leonard Appelbee (1914-2000), "Fruit" (1963)


Pale amber sunlight falls across
     The reddening October trees,
     That hardly sway before a breeze
As soft as summer:  summer's loss
     Seems little, dear! on days like these!

Let misty autumn be our part!
     The twilight of the year is sweet:
     Where shadow and the darkness meet
Our love, a twilight of the heart
     Eludes a little time's deceit.

Are we not better and at home
     In dreamful Autumn, we who deem
     No harvest joy is worth a dream?
A little while and night shall come,
     A little while, then, let us dream.

Beyond the pearled horizons lie
     Winter and night:  awaiting these
     We garner this poor hour of ease,
Until love turn from us and die
     Beneath the drear November trees.

Ernest Dowson, Verses (1896).

Pretty doleful stuff, isn't it?  But the dolefulness is so well done that one is willing to surrender oneself to the mood.  There is something endearing and alluring about it.

The third stanza is particularly fine, I think, with its "dreamful Autumn," as well as the lines "A little while and night shall come,/A little while, then, let us dream."  Those two lines echo what is perhaps Dowson's best-known poem, which has appeared here before, but is always worth visiting again.

                                 Leonard Appelbee, "Flower Piece" (1958)

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam

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.

Ernest Dowson, Ibid.

                          Leonard Appelbee, "Still Life No. 10" (1940-1950)


bruce floyd said...


I have always though the name of your blog meaningful in the most profound and heartbreaking way, a pithy and insightful comment on the human predicament: "individuation within finitude." I assume your choice of this title is taken from the E.Thomas poem.

I begin each day with reading a poem or two by Wallace Stevens and Emily Dickinson, have done so for years. I read the below poem by Dickinson this morning. She says what Thomas says, what many poets have said: we learn more from irretrievable loss than we ever will from gain. I have stood over too many graves to doubt this observation.

Eden is that old-fashioned House
We dwell in every day
Without suspecting our abode
Until we drive away.

How fair on looking back, the Day
We sauntered from the Door --
Unconscious our returning,
But discover it no more.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Floyd: thank you once again for sharing Dickinson's poetry. I've learned a great deal about her from what you've shared this autumn. And this particular poem is very fine indeed. As you say, it complements very well Thomas's "first known when lost."

Thank you.

Mathias Richter said...

I was pleased to find another poem which has been set by Ian Venables. He wrote 'Vitae Summa Brevis' in 2002. You can find more details at his website:
The song is available on a naxos CD, too.
Venables has been interested in the poets of the 1890s for a long time, quite unusual for a contemporary composer, I think.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mathias: thank you for that information. I agree: it is unusual to find an interest in 1890s poetry among composers. (Or among anybody else, I'm afraid!)

I notice also that Edward Thomas's "It Rains" is one of the six songs included in the cycle. As well as "Break, break, break" by Tennyson. An interesting selection.

Thank you again.