Ernest Dowson: Growth

In my previous post Ernest Dowson: Ad Domnulam Suam, I said that when Dowson wrote that poem in October 1890, he was afraid that his love for Adelaide would finally end as she grew into adulthood. Indeed, throughout his earlier correspondence recurs his devotion for little girls and at the same time his repulsion for their growing up into womanhood.

In a letter to Charles Sayle dated 01 October 1888, he wrote:

There are, as you say, still books, dogs and little girls of seven years old in it but unhappily. One begins to yawn over the books and the dogs die and, oh Sayle, Sayle — the little girls grow up, and become those very objectionable animals, women.

Then in a letter to Arthur Moore of 3 January 1889, he said about women:

What a charming world it would be if they did not exist—or rather if they never grew into their teens.

Finally in another letter to Arthur Moore of 27 August 1890, he wrote:

Quelle dommage that the world isnt composed entirely of little girls from 6–12.

But his love for Adelaide was so strong that it did not diminish as she grew into her teens and her look changed. Thus on 5 March 1891 (while Adelaide was approaching her 13th birthday) he wrote to Victor Plarr:

Die Kleine instead of changing, altering, repelling, as I hoped/feared might happen, in the nature of things, seems to grow in grace & favour daily. What a terrible, lamentable thing growth is! It “makes me mad” to think that in a year or two at most the most perfect exquisite relation I have ever succeeded in making must naturally end. Yes it makes me mad! One ought to be able to cease caring for anyone exactly when one wished; it’s too difficult: or one ought to be able to live entirely in the present. Something is distinctly rotten in the State of Denmark.

Dowson’s enchanted astonishment at the constancy of his love for Adelaide underlies his poem Growth. It was first published in The Second Book of the Rhymer’s Club, 1894. According to Flower and Maas, Dowson wrote it at the time he was making his awkward marriage proposal to Adelaide in April 1893, see my post Absolute Love.


I watched the glory of her childhood change,
Half-sorrowful to find the child I knew,
▬▬(Loved long ago in lily-time)
Become a maid, mysterious and strange,
With fair, pure eyes—dear eyes, but not the eyes I knew
▬▬▬▬Of old, in the olden time!

Till on my doubting soul the ancient good
Of her dear childhood in the new disguise
▬▬Dawned, and I hastened to adore
The glory of her waking maidenhood,
And found the old tenderness within her deepening eyes,
▬▬▬▬But kinder than before.

Source of the poem: from Verses, in Ernest Dowson Collected Poems, Robert Kelsey Rought Thornton and Caroline Dowson (editors), Birmingham University Press, 2003; also in The Poems and Prose of Ernest Dowson, With a Memoir by Arthur Symons, Project Gutenberg Ebook, and in The Poems of Ernest Dowson @ ELCore.Net.
Sources of the quotes: New Letters from Ernest Dowson, Desmond Flower (editor), The Whittington Press, 1984, letter D1, pages 4–5. The Letters of Ernest Dowson, Desmond Flower and Henry Maas (editors), Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1967, letters 4, 113 and 137, pages 22, 162 and 187.
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2 thoughts on “Ernest Dowson: Growth

  1. Je me reconnais pleinement dans ces pensées, si sincères, et venant manifestement du coeur, de Ernest Dowson… Entre la fillette de 6 – 12 ans (qui semblent être les âges de prédilection du poète) et la jeune fille, puis la femme, en laquelle elle se mue progressivement, il y a bien plus qu’une simple transformation… il y a une METAMORPHOSE, au sens biologique du terme, comme c”est le cas chez la chenille qui se métamorphose en papillon… Ce sont, presque, deux avatars d’une même créature, mais qui n’ont presque plus rien en commun… Cependant, l’amour peut survivre à ce dramatique passage, et je pourrais en témoigner à titre personnel… Pour un amoureux de la gent féminine enfantine, cette métamorphose reste néanmoins un épisode dramatique…


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