Dowson: his grave, restored

At the very moment this goes live, there is a ceremony beginning in the spot pictured: this newly-restored grave of the minor (but compelling) Decadent poet, Ernest Dowson, in Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery, in south London. Dowson died nearby in Catford, penniless, aged 32, in 1900. (This is back-story in case you haven’t been reading all along.) I will confess that I didn’t contribute money to the effort; I was a bit suspicious of it, as was Esoteric London. We were both so taken with the old, ruined, decadent, laurel-wreathed tomb as was. But we both agree now that it is a lovely, respectful, extremely suitable and happy effort. I think it makes our Ern look much more loved.

So, three cheers for the vision and tenacity of Philip Walker, who organised the whole thing. What a feat of the imagination! Most of us read a book and it’s just a book; he read a book and saw the real person. He must be feeling very proud of himself today. I wish I could be there with them. (They’re even having a proper little memorial service for him in the chapel. I think it’s just lovely.)

And before you read this poem, which is one of my favourites, I will remind you of TS Eliot’s pronouncement that Ernest Dowson was the finest technician of his age. This poem illustrates that. The only word in it that wouldn’t stand up today is “mine;” other than that, you should be so lucky.

Spleen

(For Arthur Symons)

(after Verlaine)

I was not sorrowful, I could not weep,
And all my memories were put to sleep.

I watched the river grow more white and strange,
All day till evening I watched it change.

All day till evening I watched the rain
Beat wearily upon the window pane.

I was not sorrowful, but only tired
Of everything that ever I desired.

Her lips, her eyes, all day became to me
The shadow of a shadow utterly.

All day mine hunger for her heart became
Oblivion, until the evening came,

And left me sorrowful, inclined to weep,
With all my memories that could not sleep.

Ernest Dowson

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