Monday 28 October 2013

Gone, In My Fashion

I took a stroll this morning to survey the scene of waste and desolation that was once London. The lush forests of Exmouth Market are no more. There was even a bin blown over. Yet amid all this I kept thinking about the connection between Cole Porter and "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Let us start with Cole Porter and his song Always True To You (In My Fashion). It's a funny song about a girl who will sleep with any rich man, and yet assures her boyfriend that she is always sort of true to him in her fashion. A typical verse goes:

There's an oil man known as Tex
Who is keen to give me checks,
And his checks, I fear, mean that sex is here to stay!
But I'm always true to you, darlin', in my fashion,
Yes, I'm always true to you, darlin', in my way.

Those last two lines end each verse. Where did Cole Porter get this idea? There was an 1890s poet called Ernest Dowson, who wrote a much sadder and more serious poem called Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae*. In it he describes spending a night with a prostitute in order to try and forget the girl he loves who has left him. Here are the first two verses:

Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    When I awoke and found the dawn was grey:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

Cole Porter's song is essentially a parody of this poem. Poor Dowson! Dead at 33. His most famous line "The days of wine and roses" is best known as the title of a 1962 film. And his sad refrain is best known as a jolly comedy.

But how does this relate to the windswept remains of London? Well, here's the second half of the poem. I shall simply put the relevant words in bold.

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind,
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
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

Ernest Dowson also invented the word soccer.

The end is upon us.

*Since you ask, this is a line from Horace. It means I am not what I was in the reign of good Cynara, and the context is that he's too old for love. Cynara is some ex-girlfriend. Mind you, cynara is also Greek for artichoke. So it may be about fruit and veg.


  1. " I don't give a damn". It always seemed to me that damnation is a pretty hefty price to pay for anything and thanks to your blog I found a far more reasonable explanation. Some time ago you made reference to Hobson-Jobson and I amused myself for some hours browsing through it and found a "dam" that just fits . A dam, at the time of writing an almost obsolete and worthless coin, twenty to the ana. Sixteen anas to the rupee which was about the equal of a shilling so about three to the farthing or thirteen to the penny. So now I can honestly say I would not give a dam for any British politician, or if I did for everyone the entire house would cost a sixpence considering the penny is now worth two and a half times of what it used to be and the rupee has fallen through the floor.

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