A TWILIGHT OF THE HEART: DOWSON’S “AUTUMNAL”

We have already discussed Ernest Dowson’s most famous poem, with its memorable line “They are not long, the days of wine and roses.”  See https://hokku.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/they-are-not-long-the-days-of-wine-and-roses-the-brief-life-of-ernest-dowson/
Today we shall look at another by him, with the same atmosphere of beauty, brevity and impending loss.  Here is his

AUTUMNAL

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!

Autumn (or the Fall, as we say in America) does have its lovely days of honey-golden light.  And it can have its gentle October days filled with the coloring and falling of the leaves, which add their own distinctive fragrance to the season.  One might well think on such days that the passing of summer is little loss.

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.

Let us have autumn!, Dowson says.  Autumn is the twilight of the year, as in hokku it is the late afternoon to early evening, and in human life it is the passage into old age — the “autumn of life.”  But here Dowson is talking about a love affair during this twilight of the year — a last love affair — a twilight of the heart — before the passage of time takes it all away.

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.

Is it not better, he says, to stay away from the rest of the world in its harvest celebrations, and keep to ourselves and our “dream of love,” illusory though it may be.  And he thinks no joy in harvest is worth this brief dream of love.  So soon the night will come and the dream will end, but let us dream while we may.  Yes, it is escapism, but poor Dowson, as we have seen in the earlier posting, had reason in his sad life for escapism.

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

Beyond the pearled (bluish-gray) horizons — that is, beyond the present time, lie winter and night, symbolizing to Dowson the end of things — of life and joy and pleasure and sadness.  So, he says, we garner (take and hold) this “poor hour of ease,” that is, the brief time of their love affair, their dream — until it all comes to an end, and he sees “love turn from us and die / Beneath the drear November trees.  By November, of course, the gentle and lovely October days of bright leaves and leaf-scented walks are past — and cold and rain have replaced them.  And for Dowson, love inevitably would end, would “turn from us and die.”

Basically, this is another “gather ye rosebuds while ye may” poem that tells people life is not easy nor is it lasting.  Matthew Arnold wrote,

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

Dowson would certainly have agreed with much of that, though he obviously felt that love itself is a temporary illusion rather than a long and faithful bond; beautiful while it lasts, like the fragrance of a rose — but evanescent and all too soon gone.  That, of course reflects the downward course of his young life, but he did leave some memorable words behind.

David