"Nuns of Perpetual Adoration," written by Ernest Dowson, was a manifestation of Dowson's involvement with the decadent movement which was marked with symbolism and a criticism of metropolitan lifestyles. Dowson provides a critique of the outside world, namely a world which "is wild and passionate", while simultaneously creating uncertainties about the virtuosity of the inside world, the nun's world. Although much of the poem explains the cloistered lives of the nuns, implying that it is a worthy lifestyle, the poem begins and ends with the phrase, "Calm, sad, secure", foreshadowing the mixed message the poem will convey. The nuns in "Nuns of Perpetual Adoration," are voluntarily shielded from the outside world, they are quite literally behind an "impenetrable gate" — indicating a separation on both sides — the nuns are separated from the world just as the outside world is separated from the nuns. The nuns, as the poem indicates, chose their isolated lifestyle because "They knew the roses of the world should fade" — the materialistic lifestyle from which they were secluded was transient, "Therefore they rather put away desire,/ And crossed their hands and came to sanctuary." Dowson concludes the poem with an ambiguous message, namely, is "their choice of vigil is the best? Dowson does not resolve this question; one can only propose a conjecture to the meaning of his conclusion.

Discussion Questions

1. Wilde, a largely influential member of the Decadent movement, paid careful attention to fine detail in poems such as "Symphony in Yellow" and "Les Ballons"? Similarly, "Nuns of Perpetual Adoration" is a work which has much detail. In what other ways is "Nuns of Perpetual Adoration" similar to the works of Oscar Wilde?

2. Is this poem indicative of the overall Decadent movement? In what ways is it different?

3. What do you think Dowson tried to convey by choosing such an ambiguous ending to his poem?

4. Why do you suppose Dowson portrayed the nuns in such a sympathetic manner when he was not making a judgment at the end. Do you think Dowson favored one lifestyle over the other?

Ernest Dowson

Last modified 27 November 2006