After Many Years, by Ernest Dowson

Post mortem photograph
Post mortem photograph – from VK

Here is a strange and beautiful poem about a dead child. The poet remembers lulling her to sleep several years ago, but now the coldness of her death seems unreal, so he wonders whether it is a dream or he is himself dead. The strangeness of the poem, with its doubts about the boundaries between reality and dream, between the living and the dead, is emphasised by the tortured indentation of its lines.

AFTER MANY YEARS

Sleep on dear now!
With thy golden hair that flows
On thy calm, thy icy brow
And thy close shut eyes, I trow
The sounds of my song cannot move thee now.
As they moved thee little in life—God knows.

Time was of old,
I did lull thee on my knee,
And thy locks of rippling gold
Streamed on my arm that did enfold,
And rocked thee to sleep who wast not so cold,
As thou liest now in Death’s mystery.

How many years
Have waned since that distant day,
Seen dim thro’ a mist of tears?
How many cycles of years?
Answer me, child, for I have my fears
That it was not real but part of a play.

Is it a dream
To see thee so calm and cold,
Who when I knew thee did seem
Never more still than the stream?
Or is it part real and partly a dream
Or a dream or in part the days of old?

Have I grown grey?
Or can it be I am dead.
And in spite of all they say,
And all I myself have said,
It is not all done with the very dead,
When the light of this life is worn away?

Nay it is true!
And I cannot doubt dear heart,
That this is really you.
‘Tis too sad not to be true
And I mind me now it was this I knew
When the high gods had it that we should part.

You pay no heed,
And I will not linger long
For I trow you have no need
Still to be lulled by my song.
Now you sleep so sound and will sleep so long
You can do without me in very deed.

Source of the poem: Poésie Schublade, in Ernest Dowson Collected Poems, R. K. R. Thornton with Caroline Dowson (editors), University of Birmingham Press (2003).

This poem was included in a post published on Agapeta, 2015/05/04. The post itself has been republished on Pigtails in Paint, 2019/03/08.

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