Cynara by Ernest Christopher Dowson (Updated post)

Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

by Ernest Dowson (1867 – 1900)

Richard Burton’s voice in this reading continues to haunt me. It’s been about nine months since I first wrote on Cynara (internal link). I need to read more Dowson.

Carol Rumens writes in the Guardian  (external link) that this poem’s title is “[F]rom Horace’s Odes, Book 4, 1, translat[ing] as “I am not as I was in the reign of good Cinara.”

Dowson’s short life was marked by tuberculosis and family suicide.

Burton reads rapidly, as if to say the protagonist needs to apologize or explain quickly. Or maybe that is Burton rushing to apologize for his own sybaritic lifestyle. “I have been faithful to you, Liz, in my fashion.” Or, “I have been faithful to my sobriety, in my fashion.”

Is this also an apology to life itself? Regret over getting such a great gift and then doing little with it? An apology to self and others: to promises broken, to faith doubted and lost, friends neglected, time wasted, to books unread. Life squandered.

“Yes, I wanted to do more but there was always something I wanted to watch on TV. I did respect the gift of life. . . in my fashion.”

Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae

Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
When I awoke and found the dawn was grey:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind,
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

NB: The audio takes 10 or 15 seconds to begin. Patience, Grasshopper!

About thomasfarley01

Freelance writer specializing in outdoor subjects, particularly rocks, gems and minerals.
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