Although in many ways an unlikely aesthete, Ireland had on his bookshelves a number of works that could be categorised as belonging to the decadence of the early part of the twentieth century. One of these was a 1927 Bodley Head reprint of poems by Ernest Dowson (1867–1900), first published in 1905. The edition is interesting for its beautiful binding in green calf with gilt floral decorations. It also contains several illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley and a memoir of Dowson written by another of Ireland’s favoured poets, Arthur Symons.
Although not surviving in the composer’s effects, he must have owned or read other works by Dowson much before 1927, as there are a number of early settings in his output. Indeed, for Ireland, Dowson was influential particularly before 1920. The composer’s first setting, ‘I was not sorrowful’, was in 1903, and there is a fine setting of ‘Spleen’ in the song cycle Marigold (1913), this poem a translation of Verlaine. A more maudlin song appeared in 1929, when Ireland wrote ‘If we must part’, dating it enigmatically ‘for 25 July 1929’. There is also an interpretation of Dowson’s poignant poem ‘When I am old’.
When I am old,
And sadly steal apart,
Into the dark and cold,
Friend of my heart!
Remember, if you can,
Not him who lingers, but that other man,
Who loved and sang, and had a beating heart, —
When I am old!
The Poems of Ernest Dowson (1927), London, Bodley Head.