Tuesday, 10 November 2009


Proof was once again recently furnished that the world is not only small but microscopic, as several strands of my life were woven together by the appearance in our office of a monograph on the poet Ernest Dowson.

Dowson was a late 19th century poet, of a somewhat morbid and sentimental bent, who died young and whose words have left a trail across an intriguingly wide range of areas. Probably his best-known phrase:

the days of wine and roses
from his poem Vitae Summae Brevis, became a song and a well-known phrase or saying, while another verse work, Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae, gave us:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion
(which was the direct inspiration for Cole Porter's Kiss me, Kate song Always True to you in my Fashion,) as well as:

Gone with the wind
which needs no introduction. Furthermore, lines from his poems were also used as titles for some of Michael Moorcock's wonderful Dancers at the End of Time books, a series which imagines a few apparently immortal, practically omnipotent human beings left on a future Earth, attempting to reconstruct the artefacts and emotions of earlier ages in order to give meaning and colour to their lives.

Weaving the web of connections into my own career in the book trade, Dowson also features in the splendid anthology The Dedalus Book of Absinthe, a very intelligently edited collection of compelling pieces featuring the drink, focussing on the artistic and literary devotees of the green fairy. In one of my previous jobs, I was a sales rep. selling not only Dedalus titles bit also those of Greenwich Exchange, who publish the Dowson monograph. Finally, I should add that the author of the monograph (Henry Maas) is a friend of Capuchin's founder, Tom Stacey.

I recommend discovering (or rediscovering) Dowson, and would argue that any respectable literary home ought to have at least one copy of the Absinthe anthology.


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