Child-love and nostalgia in Ernest Dowson’s Jadis

John Ruskin - Rose La Touche (1860) - from Wikimedia Commons

John Ruskin – Rose La Touche (1860) – from Wikimedia Commons

According to Desmond Flower, Dowson’s poem Jadis was written on 24 August 1889, and it was then called “Rondeau”. It seems that it was first published in his volume Decorations in 1899. The title is the French translation of the poem’s first word “Erewhile”.

JADIS

Erewhile, before the world was old,
When violets grew and celandine,
In Cupid’s train we were enrolled:
========Erewhile!
Your little hands were clasped in mine,
Your head all ruddy and sun-gold
Lay on my breast which was your shrine,
And all the tale of love was told:
Ah, God, that sweet things should decline,
And fires fade out which were not cold,
========Erewhile.

Like several of his earlier poems in Poésie Schublade, this one extols the tender love of a child, seen itself as transient, hence it shows a strong nostalgia for a past forever lost. The metric form of this “rondeau” poem is also the same as that of Rondeau Hélène and Roundel to Hélène in Poésie Schublade, or Beyond in Decorations.

This nostalgia reminds of the poem Praeterita, which I discussed earlier. A comment reminded that the poet John Ruskin titled his autobiography “Praeterita”; now like Dowson, Ruskin fell in love with a very young girl, Rose La Touche, whom he met when she was aged nine years and a half. The commenter wondered if girl-lovers are particularly prone to nostalgia.

James Kincaid, in his book Child-Loving: the Erotic Child and Victorian Culture, analyses in depth the Victorian infatuation with children, in particular in his Chapter 6, “The Gentle Child”, he discusses nostalgia, which he considers as a basic feature of child-love (without any distinction between loving girls or boys):

But there is more to the child-lover’s nostalgia than a reaction to lost love. The romance was, after all, not ended but initiated by loss, by the attraction for a past one has lost long before the child came along. […]
Pedophilia is so deeply colored by a desire to return, to be the child, that it does not take the loss of that loved child to induce nostalgia. The pedophile lives in and through nostalgia all the time; it is the romantic heart of the relationship.
Pedophile poets love to write of the pain caused by the traumatizing growth of the child: “And till I find those eyes of blue / And golden curls, I walk in pain.” (John Addington Symonds)

Source of the poem: from Decorations, 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.
Source of the quote: James Kincaid, Child-Loving: the Erotic Child and Victorian Culture, Routledge, 1992, page 228.

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2 thoughts on “Child-love and nostalgia in Ernest Dowson’s Jadis

  1. John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) est surtout connu – me semble-t-il – en tant que critique d’art, en pleine époque victorienne. Ce que l’on sait peut-être moins, c’était qu’il était également un grand amoureux des fillettes (dans quelle mesure, je l’ignore). Je dispose de quelques textes (peu nombreux, à dire vrai) qui témoignent en ce sens. Je les publierai, à l’occasion.

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