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All fled, All Done

by Rusty Burke

How long have we all accepted that Howard's self-written epitaph

All fled, all done, so lift me on the pyre;
The feast is over and the lamps expire.

was paraphrased from Ernest Dowson's "Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae" (or "Cynara"), the last stanza of which reads:

 

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."

At least since 1966, when Sprague de Camp wrote in "Memories of R.E.H." (Amra #38):

The second line of the farewell couplet seems to be a paraphrase of a line in the fourth and last stanza of the well-known poem, "Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae," by Ernest Christopher Dowson (1867-1900)....

Dowson, a minor Victorian poet who died young of tuberculosis and alcoholism, also wrote a number of poems full of the studied melancholy and self-conscious thanatophilia that sometimes occurs in Howard's verse.

By The Miscast Barbarian (published by Gerry de la Ree, 1975), in that disarming way Mr. de Camp has of turning speculation into statements of fact, this became, "The second line of this couplet is paraphrased from a poem by Ernest Christopher Dowson...."  Steve Eng picked this up in his excellent study, "The Poetry of Robert E. Howard" (in The Dark Barbarian, Greenwood Press, 1984): after noting that Howard's friend Harold Preece had written that Bob "would have thought little of a weakling like Ernest Dowson" (in a letter to Glenn Lord published in The Howard Collector), Eng says, "There are other uncanny Dowson parallels in his life, as well as Dowson echoes in his poetry, culminating in the suicide note found in Howard's typewriter: a scrap of paraphrase from Dowson's 'Cynara'...."

It never has occurred to me to quibble with this.  Although, unlike Eng, I found no particular affinities between Howard's poetry and Dowson's more languorous verse, there was no mistaking that line, "...the feast is finished and the lamps expire."

Well, hold on.

Engaged in literary detective work, I have been scanning a number of poetry collections for scraps that Howard had quoted.  In a little book called Songs of Adventure, edited by Robert Frothingham (Houghton Mifflin, 1926), I stumbled by chance upon a poem by Benjamin De Casseres ("The Closed Room") which Howard used some lines from in "The Door to the World" (published in Fantasy Crosswinds as "The Door to the Garden").  Then, scanning over the contents, I found that the collection included Bill Adams' "Flower of the Morning," which Howard had used in memorializing his friend Herbert Klatt, although this anthology presented it under the title "Light of the Morning."  So I'm paging through the book wondering if maybe I might stumble upon the sources of a couple of other little scraps of poetry which Howard had quoted but not identified.  And I ran across this, on pages 154-155:

THE HOUSE OF CAESAR


Yea -- we have thought of royal robes and red.
Had purple dreams of words we uttere'd;
Have lived once more the moment in the brain
That stirred the multitude to shout again.
All done, all fled, and now we faint and tire --
The Feast is over and the lamps expire!

Yea -- we have launched a ship on sapphire seas,
And felt the steed between the gripping knees;
Have breathed the evening when the huntsman brought
The stiffening trophy of the fevered sport --
Have crouched by rivers in the grassy meads
To watch for fish that dart amongst the weeds.
All well, all good -- so hale from sun and mire --
The Feast is over and the lamps expire!

Yet -- we have thought of Love as men may think,
Who drain a cup because they needs must drink;
Have brought a jewel from beyond the seas
To star a crown of blue anemones.
All fled, all done -- a Caesar's brief desire --
The Feast is over and the lamps expire!

Yea -- and what is there that we have not done,
The Gods provided us 'twixt sun and sun?
Have we not watched an hundred legions thinned,
And crushed and conquered, succore'd and sinned?
Lo -- we who moved the lofty gods to ire --
The Feast is over and the lamps expire!

Yea -- and what voice shall reach us and shall give
Our earthly self a moment more to live?
What arm shall fold us and shall come between
Our failing body and the grasses green?
And the last heart that beats beneath this head --
Shall it be heard or unremembere'd?
All dim, all pale -- so lift me on the pyre --
The Feast is over and the lamps expire!

-- Viola Garvin

Need I add anything?  Seems to me there is no question that this is the source of those lines.  If the repeated refrain weren't enough, the occurrence of the phrases "all fled, all done" and "so lift me on the pyre" would seem to clinch it.

We had some discussion of this on the REH-fans list, with it being noted that, the tone of this poem differing from that of Dowson's, it puts a new slant on Howard's mood at the time of his suicide.

In trying to run down more information on Viola Garvin, I found two roughly contemporary women; Viola Gerard Garvin (1898-????), an editor at the London Observer and author of Dedication (London: Victor Gollancz, Ltd., 1928), and Viola (Taylor) Garvin, author of As You See It (by "V"; London: Methuen & Co., 1922) and of a novel, the title of which I don't recall, but which need not concern us.  The poem does not appear in either of the ladies' books, unfortunately.  I am inclined toward the former by stylistic similarities between this poem and those in Dedication.

 

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