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Ernest Dowson

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.


“Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam” by Ernest Dowson. Find it along with the rest of his best in The Poems And Prose Of Ernest Dowson.

One the best simple-short works of verse I know. Memorize it and keep it upstairs.

(The only alteration I would possibly make to the poem would be to its penultimate line. “A while” does not serve to smooth the second stanza into its closing, and instead stands as a point of rhythmic drag. A dangling foot, an elbow sticking out, tripping the reader on his way to the finish. Moreover, “a while” seems redundant: Dowson has already made the point that the “path” is marked by time.

So instead, try reading the poem with that line as “Our path emerges, and then closes”. It still doesn’t match the eleven-syllables of the penultimate line of the first stanza, but it does glide more smoothly into that beautiful, subtle final line.)