Ernest Dowson: Sonnets of a Little Girl, I

Ernest Dowson wrote Sonnets of a Little Girl, a group of 8 poems, around 1885. It seems that in his lifetime, only the 4th was published.

In the first poem, Dowson tells us that life is full of disappointments, but its only consolation is a child’s love. There is also a paradox in it, as he says “all things die and wane, save this alone”. Indeed, childhood is by nature a transient state; moreover the way of loving and the objects of love change when one grows. Dowson was aware of this, since several of his poems present a child’s love as an ephemeral experience, to be enjoyed for a short time (Ad Domnulam Suam, Transition), fleeting and dreamlike (A Mosaic), subject to a child’s forgetfulness (Yvonne of Brittany), and finally a nostalgic memory of the past (Jadis).


When life doth languish midst the bitter wrong
▬▬That riots everywhere, when all hopes fail,
And comfort is most weak and doubt most strong,
▬▬And friends are false and woman’s troth proves frail,
And all thy soul for very life-sickness
▬▬Doth long to end, there yet is one sweet thing,
One fresh oasis in the wilderness
▬▬Of this sad world whereunto thou shalt cling
As to salvation–a child’s tender love.
▬▬Ah do not doubt it–all things die and wane,
Save this alone; this only lasts above,
▬▬The lingering rule of weariness and pain,
This love alone is stingless and can calm
Life’s fitful fever with its healing balm.

Source: from Poésie Schublade, in Ernest Dowson Collected Poems, Robert Kelsey Rought Thornton and Caroline Dowson (editors), Birmingham University Press, 2003.


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