Ernest Dowson: Sonnets of a Little Girl, VI and VII

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The poet bids farewell to the child whose smile was the sweetest thing in his life, and she will remain his dearest memory.

SONNETS OF A LITTLE GIRL (VI)

For the last time, perhaps for weary years
    Perhaps for ever, I have looked upon
    Thy fair fair face;—those grey eyes that have shone
Such comfort on me when the foul fiend fear’s
Gaunt haggard laugh would mock me and hot tears
For very loathing of my life rain down,
That trusting smile the one thing sweet I’ve known
I’ the bitterness of life—all disappears.
Farewell, dear saint, I leave thee and I lay
No tax upon thy memory though God knows
This sobbing sea that sadly ebbs and flows
Shall not more surely each returning day
Cling to the callous shore than I in thee
Behold my drear life’s dearest memory.

But the poet feels unworthy of the child’s love, and asks for her forgiveness.

SONNETS OF A LITTLE GIRL (VII)

So—it is finished and I cannot weep
Nor rave nor utter moan, life is too strong
For my weak will, it carries me along
On its fierce current till I fain would creep
Into some cavern still and fall asleep
And sleeping die, or melt like a sad song
Into the winds—I care not to hold long
This dreary life where pain alone is deep.
O child, my child, forgive me, I am vain,
Unworthy of thy love, I will not task
Even thy pity, who have ta’en a mask
And shall not show my living face again,
Until the end of all things joy and pain
Has given me more than now I dare to ask.

The 8th of the Sonnets of a Little Girl, entitled Epilogue, is not about childhood, but rather about death; it was published in a revised form in Decorations, under the title A Last Word.

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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