Ernest Dowson: Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam [*POEM*]

By Ernest Dowson

A minor poet of the late Victorian era, Ernest Dowson (1867-1900), is associated with the Decadent movement in Poetry. Influenced by Baudelaire and Swinburne,  Dowson was on friendly terms with Oscar Wilde whom he took to a brothel in France, hoping the experience might give the homosexual Wilde “a more wholesome taste” for female flesh. He failed. Wilde quipped later: “It was like making love to dead mutton.” 

The 8-line poem by Dowson featured below is generally regarded as one of the most beautiful short poems in the English language.    

Evelyn De Morgan, The Hourglass
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Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam

(“Life’s brief passage forbids us to crave  for a longer life.”— 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. 

8 thoughts to “Ernest Dowson: Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam [*POEM*]”

  1. As the advancing years close in on me, I find this poem particularly poignant. The quotation from Horace illustrates one of his main themes: the brevity of life and the inevitability of death are frequently evoked in his works.

  2. uncle :

    You’re CENSORING my post “Elvis Sings ‘Young and Beautiful’” because? Because my post transcends the usual boring prosaic pedestrian uninspiring comments you’re used to getting from the commentariat? Because I rise above the commentariat? Because my “Elvis” post would greatly enhance this commentary thread? A comment a little bit out of the ordinary, with a music video especially touching, with a music video which resonates with theme of the featured poem, is something to be rejected? Because it’s TOO beautiful of a post? And neanderthals don’t like beautiful touching sentiment? It’s TOO over your thick cave man head, right? I think so. Never mind, I know why you’re CENSORING my post, forget I asked, lol…

    1. uncle :

      You’re CENSORING my post “Elvis Sings ‘Young and Beautiful’” because? Because my post transcends the usual boring prosaic pedestrian uninspiring comments you’re used to getting from the commentariat? Because I rise above the commentariat?

      A 4-minute video of Elvis crooning a pop song from the 1950s can hardly regarded as an “inspired” comment on this beautiful Dowson poem — which belongs in a class of its own. The hackneyed pop song demeans the inspired poem by appearing on the same thread — a bit like comparing a plastic turnip to a rose! 🙂

      This is not a chatroom for third-rate disc jockeys, Joe. Try making an original comment.

  3. Ryckaert :

    You’re a Latin expert so I ask you : Is ” Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam” real Latin? Or, is it fake/faux Latin, like ” Illegitimi Non Carborundum” ? It sounds like fake Latin to me, and if it is fake Latin I’m okay with that , I don’t have a problem with fake Latin, actually, I think fake Latin is fun, lol. Do you like fake Latin? I bet you don’t, amirite? lol…

    1. @ TROJ

      Silly man, your knowledge of Latin is ZERO —
      as is your knowledge of almost everything else!!

      “The Shortness of Life Forbids Us Long Hopes.” The [Latin] phrase comes from lines in Ode 1.4, by the Roman poet Horace (65-8 bce):

      “pallida Mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas
      regnumque turris. o beate Sesti,
      vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam.”

      “Still pallid Death is knocking at the hovels of paupers
      And the towers of kings. O happy Sestius,
      The short span of life forbids us undertaking long hopes.”

      https://hokku.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/they-are-not-long-the-days-of-wine-and-roses-the-brief-life-of-ernest-dowson/

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