The phrase “days of wine and roses” is Ernest Dowson’s, from his 1896 Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam, which is a line from Horace’s First Ode, and which translates as ‘The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long.’
They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
Dowson was intellectually versatile, prolific as a writer and translator, and an incorrigible alcoholic who died of his incorrigibility at the age of 32. He fell in love with a waitress, versified as Cynara, who was quite unable to understand his work, and who absconded with a waiter, and the poet was thus “gone with the wind,” which is the phrase that stimulated Margaret Mitchell, as did another phrase, in his fashion, stimulate Cole Porter while he was redesigning The Taming of the Shrew as a Broadway musical.
Blake Edwards’s 1962 film does well with the bevi con me as conceived by Iago. Henry Mancini’s theme music, not remotely like Verdi, and set to irrelevant lyrics by Johnny Mercer, won an Academy Award, but its sounding is blissfully brief. However, the acting by Jack Lemmon, Lee Remick, and Charles Bickford is excellent, often brilliant. Alcohol is a predator, and it is expert in luring its prey. The film is harsh and does not judge. The scenes of insatiable inebriation are harrowing. I started to recount from my memory all those whom I knew who were ruined by booze; it is not a short list. And yes, it is so that one sometimes does have to give up on people. Edwards, Lemmon, and Remick all themselves sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous.
Dowson’s Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae (“I am not as I was in the reign of good Cinara’—also from Horace, his Fourth Ode) has the phrase “between the kisses and the wine … I was desolate and sick of an old passion.” Frederick Delius set the poem to music in 1907, but left it incomplete until 1929, when he had been blinded by syphilis. It is a music replete with the destruction people can rain upon themselves when the desolation of irremediable loss sets in, and is an accurate prologue to what the film The Days of Wine and Roses so accurately, so persuasively, portrays. The image is only what one imagines one wants to see, or hear.