John Barlas (1860 – 1914) who wrote under the pseudonym of Evelyn Douglas was a man of tragic and majestic proportions. Like a modern day Don Quixote, he tilted hard at the windmills of his day. Having been befriended by Oscar Wilde while attending Oxford, he later became associated with William Morris, and was even sponsored into the Rhymers’ Club by Ernest Dowson, no less. However, his emotions could be both intense and erratic, leading to a very unfortunate misadventure in 1891 in which he fired 3 shots from a revolver at the House of Commons from Westminster bridge, apparently to demonstrate his contempt for Parliament. Oscar Wilde bailed him out of jail, but Barlas proceeded on the same sort of downward spiral, as Dowson, Swinburne (whose work influenced Barlas greatly) and so many other young men of his generation had done. He spent most of his post jail life in Gartnavel asylum in Glasgow, where he died, it is speculated, from the complications of syphilis.
I find his poems to be an amalgam of the mournful, lovelorn work of John Dowland, mixed with the very best of the English Décadents. He is tasteful and always has an eye toward harmonious aesthetics within his poems, which makes them all the more devastating, considering their fatal tone.
XXXVI. "A cut rose set in water, poor sick wraith"
A cut rose set in water, poor sick wraith,
Survives a little while in hectic bloom,
A ghostly body in a living tomb:
E'en as a love-sick maid it lingereth
Feeding its passion with protracted death;
While through the very wound that wrought its doom
It draws unnatural nourishment: the room
Is long time fragrant with its dying breath.
How slow life droops away cut off from thee,
But cannot wither, though inch by inch it dies!
Torn cruelly from love's mutilated tree,
Through my heart's wound I drink what grief supplies
Of waterish sustenance, salt as the sea;
And all the night is heavy with my sighs.
John Barlas, (pseud. Evelyn Douglas), Love Sonnets, 1889.