Ernest Dowson: The Moon Maiden’s Song

Doug Fitzgerald - Blue Moon II (1990s)

Doug Fitzgerald – Blue Moon girl II (c.1990) – from

Ernest Dowson wrote The Pierrot of the Minute, a short play in verse, in October 1892; this work was commissioned by the American actor-poet William Theodore Peters. It was published in final form by Leonard Smithers in 1897.

Pierrot goes to a temple in search of Love. As the night falls, he sinks into sleep, but he is awaken by a Moon Maiden who tells him that he can love her for one night, but in return she will own his heart for the rest of his life: “Mortal, beware the kisses of the moon! / Whoso seeks her she gathers like a flower— / He gives a life, and only gains an hour.” He lets himself be tempted: “Watch, and forget all weary things of earth, / All memories and cares, all joy and mirth, / While my dance woos him, light and rhythmical, / And weaves his heart into my coronal.” As soon as the day dawns, Pierrot falls asleep again and the Moon Maiden says:

♥ Music, my maids! His weary senses steep
In soft untroubled and oblivious sleep,
With mandragore anoint his tirèd eyes,
That they may open on mere memories,
Then shall a vision seem his lost delight,
With love, his lady for a summer’s night.
Dream thou hast dreamt all this, when thou awake,
Yet still be sorrowful, for a dream’s sake.
I leave thee, sleeper! Yea, I leave thee now,
Yet take my legacy upon thy brow:
Remember me, who was compassionate,
And opened for thee once, the ivory gate.
I come no more, thou shalt not see my face
When I am gone to mine exalted place:
Yet all thy days are mine, dreamer of dreams,
All silvered over with the moon’s pale beams:
Go forth and seek in each fair face in vain,
To find the image of thy love again.
All maids are kind to thee, yet never one
Shall hold thy truant heart till day be done.
Whom once the moon has kissed, loves long and late,
Yet never finds the maid to be his mate.
Farewell, dear sleeper, follow out thy fate.

She withdraws and one hears a voice singing from behind:


Sleep! Cast thy canopy
♥ Over this sleeper’s brain,
Dim grow his memory,
♥ When he awake again.

Love stays a summer night,
♥ Till lights of morning come;
Then takes her wingèd flight
♥ Back to her starry home.

Sleep! Yet thy days are mine;
♥ Love’s seal is over thee:
Far though my ways from thine,
♥ Dim though thy memory.

Love stays a summer night,
♥ Till lights of morning come;
Then takes her wingèd flight
♥ Back to her starry home.

Source of the poem: from The Pierrot of the Minute (A dramatic phantasy in one act), 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.


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