Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 18

Poetry gives me a headache.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love literature, but poetry as a genre just isn’t my glass of vino.  College ruined poetry for me.  It was never enough to simply read poetry.  Poetry always came with a requirement to analyze and interpret what the author meant, or didn’t mean.  And I always got it wrong.  Every time I wrote a poetry analysis, it would come back with a big, ugly C written (in the red pen of unhappiness) across the top of it.  It took me three semesters of college English to figure out that all I needed was a more esoteric (read as: bullshit) approach to my interpretation, and, just like that, my grade turned into a vowel.

Today’s words come from English poet, Ernest Dowson, who wrote under the umbrella of something called the Decadent Movement, which emphasized “aestheticism and symbolism over the natural world.”  I have no idea what that means.  Also, Decadents had some kind of connection to Edgar Allen Poe [scratching my head].  Dowson was a raging alcoholic (a complete slave to the Green Fairy) who, by all accounts, drank himself to death at age 32.  But his official cause of death is listed as tuberculosis.

Even if you’re not a poetry connoisseur, you’ll probably recognize Dawson’s words (at least the days of wine and roses part):

days of wine and roses

The title for the 1962 movie, Days of Wine and Roses, (a movie about descent into alcoholism) came from Dowson’s poem.  Someone (not me) should write a thesis about that irony.

Here’s the full, 8-line text of Dowson’s poem:

Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam
The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long.  ~Horace

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Put on your thinking beret . . . let’s interpret.

Interpretation for my English professor:  This is an aesthetic commentary on the condition of human transience and mortality.  It is both hopeful and sad.  It’s brevity and meter symbolize the shortness of life.  The Latin title foreshadows the ephemeral human condition.  The days of wine and roses are but a temporary happiness that both generates from and fades into a dream of reality.  Yep, totally making this up.

Interpretation for me:  Life is short.  Carpe Diem.  (You see?  I can use Horace, too).

Incidentally, Margaret Mitchell got the title for Gone with the Wind (one of my favorite books of all time and ever) from a Dowson poem, so I suppose I should thank him for this:

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.

But, I have absolutely no idea what this means.  Something about an artichoke (Cynara is the Latin word for artichoke) and love.  But I’m glad Margaret Mitchell understood it.

Did you notice wine makes not one, but two appearances in Cynara?  But I’m gonna let you interpret . . . I have a headache.

I’ll leave you with a toast . . . May all your days be of wine and roses.

Salud!

5 comments

  1. Brings back bad memories. The only reason I passed my last college english literature class with flying colors, was that I finally figured out that all the symbolism was sexual, and everyone was gay. Moby dick comes to mind… But that’s what this professor wanted, and I finally gave in. I learned nothing. Great post. Gave me a headache, too.

    Like

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