Tag Archives: cynara

The Poet and the Prostitute (dedicated to Ernest Christopher Dowson)

Some girls say
“No way”,
(And mean what they say).
But others may,
(For pay)
Remain, for a time,
And forever be,
That anonymous she,
Immortalised in rhyme.

The Poet And The Prostitute

You
Didn’t know what to do
But did it with such panache
For cash.

O my sweet
Girls must eat
While poets spend their time
In rhyme.

The above was prompted by my reading of Ernest Christopher Dowson’s “Cynara”, http://www.bartleby.com/336/687.html. Dowson belonged to the school of decadent poets and in “Cynara” he contrasts his unrequited love for a young woman with his (present) relationship with a prostitute. “Cynara” is a fine poem and Dowson deserves to be better known than he is.

Dowson

Sinking into bliss.
A kiss.
A silver penny
So many
Shine
On women and wine.
As Dowson searches, for love divine.

Pale lost lilies.
Sillies
Weak
No words they speak
Will make him cease
In his search for peace.

Dowson died young.
No joy his lovings brung.
The same old song sung
Once more.
The hoare
Frost froze the poet, to the core.

Ernest Christopher Dowson was one of the Decadent or Catholic poets. Born in 1867 and dying in 1900 the poet spent a life full of wine, women and song, often seeking solace in the arms of the world’s oldest profession.
The reference to “Lilies” refers to Dowson’s fine poem, “Cynara” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Dowson).

The Personal In Poetry

Recently I asked an acquaintance whether, in her opinion my poetry “is to personal?” She responded that poetry is, by it’s very nature personal and that my writing does not, in any case fall into the category of overly personal poetry.

The above conversation started me pondering on what a poet’s work says about the writer. The first point which must be made is that the mere fact of writing about a topic does not imply that the poet has any involvement in it. For example he may write about boxing or stamp collecting without ever having participated in either activity. One must be careful therefore not to draw erroneous conclusions that A must be somehow involved in Z merely owing to A expending much ink on Z. Having entered the above caveat, it is undoubtedly true that much poetry is personal and by immersing ourselves in the poet’s work we gain an enhanced understanding of both the poet and his poetry.

In his poem, “Aubade” Philip Larkin describes waking at 4 am, looking around his room and thinking about death, from which none of us can escape, try as we might to hide from the fact of our own mortality. Larkin’s poem is intensely personal, “I work all day and get half-drunk at night …”. Larkin describes religion as a “moth eaten brocade” and his lack of religious conviction adds to his fear of death. Larkin’s fear of the grim reaper is intensely personal and the brilliance of Aubade lies in the manner in which the poet communicates his dread of “unresting death”. (For an interesting article on the poem please see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/anwilson/3554550/Philip-Larkins-almost-perfect-poem.html).

Ernest Dowson’s Cynara is another profoundly personal poem. In it the poet describes his encounter with a prostitute,

“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 grey:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion”.

Dowson’s hedonistic lifestyle, “I called for madder music and stronger wine” is an attempt to escape from the memory of Cynara, the poet’s unrequited love interest. Despite Dowson’s attempts to blot out the recollection of Cynara she remains ever present, a kind of Banquo’s ghost at the poet’s parties. Dowson’s life was cut short (he died at the age of only 30). Yet he left behind the wonderfully moving and personal Cynara.

In conclusion it can be seen that poetry can (and frequently) does reveal much about the poet. Indeed it is virtually (perhaps entirely) impossible to write poetry without revealing something of oneself. However, as pointed out earlier in this post we should not conclude that writing about a subject necessarily implies that the writer is somehow a participant in the matter being described.

Love And Wine By K Morris

The below poem was inspired by Ernest Dowson’s “Cynara”, (http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2011/mar/14/non-sum-qualis-cynarae-dowson). I am a huge Dowson admirer. He does, in my view deserve far greater recognition than is generally accorded to him.

 

Love And Wine By K Morris

 

The night is fine.

The women divine.

The wine is sweet.

Lovers embrace beneath the sheets.

The morning’s cold.

Good time girls count their gold.

Man contemplates his soul.

 

Cynara by Ernest Christopher Dowson

I don’t often include work by other writers here. However I have chosen to include Cynara by the English poet, Ernest Christopher Dowson because it is, in my view one of the greatest poems in the English language. Dowson lived a short life (1867-1900), one full of drunkenness. He is perhaps best known for his wonderful poem, “They are not long the weeping and the laughter”, however he deserves to be better known for his other poems including the below.

 

Cynara

 

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.