'Amor Profanus' by Ernest Dowson

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Amor Profanus

Beyond the pale of memory,
In some mysterious dusky grove;
A place of shadows utterly,
Where never coos the turtle-dove,
A world forgotten of the sun:
I dreamed we met when day was done,
And marvelled at our ancient love.

Met there by chance, long kept apart,
We wandered through the darkling glades;
And that old language of the heart
We sought to speak: alas! poor shades!
Over our pallid lips had run
The waters of oblivion,
Which crown all loves of men or maids.

In vain we stammered: from afar
Our old desire shone cold and dead:
That time was distant as a star,
When eyes were bright and lips were red.
And still we went with downcast eye
And no delight in being nigh,
Poor shadows most uncomforted.

Ah, Lalage! while life is ours,
Hoard not thy beauty rose and white,
But pluck the pretty fleeing flowers
That deck our little path of light:
For all too soon we twain shall tread
The bitter pastures of the dead:
Estranged, sad spectres of the night.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Amor Profanus: A Tale of Love and Loss

Amor Profanus is a poignant poem written by Ernest Dowson, which captures the essence of love and its eventual loss. The poem is a fusion of classical and modern poetry, which resonates with the reader's emotions and is bound to leave a lasting impact. In this paper, we will delve deeper into the themes, symbolism, and style of the poem, and explore the interpretive possibilities that this masterpiece offers.


Ernest Dowson was a British poet who lived between 1867 and 1900. He was a member of the Decadent movement of the late 19th century and was known for his melancholic and lyrical poetry. Dowson's life was marked by tragedy, as he suffered from alcoholism, drug addiction, and depression. He died at the young age of 32 due to tuberculosis, leaving behind a small but powerful body of work.

Amor Profanus was written in 1896, towards the end of Dowson's life. The poem was published in The Savoy, a literary magazine associated with the Decadent movement. The poem is inspired by Dowson's own experiences of love and loss, and the theme of unrequited love is a recurring motif in his poetry.


The central theme of Amor Profanus is the pain and anguish of unrequited love. The poem portrays a speaker who is deeply in love with a woman who does not reciprocate his feelings. The speaker is tormented by his unfulfilled desire and is unable to escape the memory of his beloved. The poem explores the different facets of love, from its initial euphoria to its eventual decay, and the speaker's inability to let go of his feelings.

The poem also deals with the theme of mortality and the fleeting nature of life. The speaker is acutely aware of his own mortality and is haunted by the thought that his love will never be fulfilled. The poem is infused with a sense of melancholy and despair, which reflects the speaker's own internal struggles.


The poem is rich in symbolism, which adds depth and complexity to its meaning. The most prominent symbol in the poem is the rose, which represents the speaker's beloved. The rose is a traditional symbol of love and beauty, but in this context, it is also a symbol of transience and decay. The speaker is aware that the beauty of the rose is fleeting and that it will eventually wither and die, just as his love is destined to remain unfulfilled.

The poem also contains references to classical mythology, which serve to underscore the themes of love and loss. The speaker compares his own plight to that of Orpheus, the legendary musician who descended into the underworld to rescue his beloved Eurydice. Like Orpheus, the speaker is unable to save his beloved from the clutches of death, and his love remains unfulfilled.


Dowson's poetry is characterized by its lyrical and musical qualities, which are evident in Amor Profanus. The poem is composed in free verse, which allows the poet to experiment with the rhythm and structure of the poem. The poem is divided into two stanzas, each of which contains six lines.

The language of the poem is rich and evocative, and Dowson makes use of imagery and metaphor to convey the speaker's emotional turmoil. The poem is infused with a sense of melancholy, which is conveyed through the use of words such as "sorrow," "regret," and "anguish."


Amor Profanus is a deeply moving poem that captures the pain and anguish of unrequited love. The poem can be interpreted in a variety of ways, depending on the reader's own experiences and perspective.

One possible interpretation of the poem is that it represents a critique of the Decadent movement, of which Dowson was a part. The Decadent movement was characterized by its emphasis on aestheticism and pleasure, and its rejection of traditional morality and social norms. The speaker's unfulfilled love can be seen as a metaphor for the emptiness and futility of Decadent ideals.

Another interpretation of the poem is that it represents a meditation on the nature of love itself. The poem suggests that love is inherently fleeting and that it is destined to end in disappointment and sorrow. The speaker's inability to let go of his love can be seen as a reflection of the human condition, in which we are driven by a desire for love and connection, even in the face of its inevitable loss.


Amor Profanus is a powerful and poignant poem that captures the essence of love and its eventual loss. The poem is a testament to Dowson's talent as a poet and his ability to convey complex emotions and ideas through his writing. The poem offers multiple interpretive possibilities and is bound to leave a lasting impact on anyone who reads it.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Amor Profanus: A Masterpiece of Ernest Dowson

Ernest Dowson, a prominent poet of the late 19th century, is known for his melancholic and decadent style of writing. His works are often characterized by themes of love, death, and despair. One of his most famous poems, Amor Profanus, is a perfect example of his unique style.

Amor Profanus, which translates to "profane love," is a sonnet that explores the complexities of love and desire. The poem is divided into two parts, with the first eight lines presenting the speaker's longing for a forbidden love, and the final six lines expressing his despair at the impossibility of fulfilling that desire.

The poem begins with the speaker addressing his beloved, whom he refers to as "my lady of dimness." The use of the word "dimness" suggests that the speaker's love is shrouded in darkness and secrecy. He goes on to describe his desire for her, saying that he would "give my soul to be / Where thou art only." This line reveals the intensity of the speaker's longing, as he is willing to sacrifice his very being to be with his beloved.

The next two lines, "My life, my all, my one reality / Is love, the passion of my heart and eyes," further emphasize the speaker's devotion to his beloved. Love is not just a feeling for him, but rather the very essence of his being. The use of the word "passion" suggests that his love is not just a gentle affection, but a burning desire that consumes him.

In the third quatrain, the speaker acknowledges that his love is forbidden, saying, "But love that is not free / Is not love, but a bond or a disease." Here, the speaker recognizes that his love is not pure, as it is constrained by societal norms and expectations. He compares it to a disease, suggesting that it is something that he cannot control.

The final two lines of the first part of the poem express the speaker's hopelessness in the face of his forbidden love. He says, "And I am sick, and hate the helplessness / And the drear waste of hours and the vain tears." The use of the word "sick" suggests that the speaker's love is causing him physical pain. He hates his own helplessness, as he is unable to act on his desires. The "drear waste of hours" and "vain tears" suggest that the speaker's love is futile, and that he is resigned to a life of unfulfilled longing.

The final six lines of the poem express the speaker's despair at the impossibility of fulfilling his desire. He says, "For what is love itself, for the one we love? / Is it not contentment, and a calm heart's ease? / Nay, but a tempest, and a raging sea, / That tosses to and fro, where'er it moves, / 'Mid the strong blasts that buffet it and beat; / And bruise it till it faints, and swoons, and dies."

Here, the speaker questions the very nature of love. He suggests that true love is not contentment and calm, but rather a tempestuous force that can cause pain and suffering. The use of the metaphor of a "raging sea" suggests that love is unpredictable and uncontrollable. The final line, "And bruise it till it faints, and swoons, and dies," suggests that love can be destructive, and that the speaker's own love has caused him to suffer.

In conclusion, Amor Profanus is a masterpiece of Ernest Dowson's decadent style. The poem explores the complexities of love and desire, and the pain and suffering that can come with them. The use of vivid imagery and metaphors creates a powerful and emotional impact on the reader. The poem is a testament to Dowson's skill as a poet, and his ability to capture the essence of human emotion in his writing.

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