Ensanguining the Skies

The older I become the more aware I am of the incredible power that words have to affect our emotions, and thereby our thinking, maybe even our behavior as well. I heard the word ensanguining a couple of weeks before we left home on this trip, when I happened to be watching a television program on Netflix. When I heard it I knew it was a word I did not know, but assumed it had to be related to sanguine. With Google’s help, I discovered that sanguine is from the Latin word sanguis which means blood. I easily inferred that related to sky the word likely meant something to do with sunsets. That happened to be true but it took a while for me to get there.

I have to admit I have become something of a fan of Netflix since we learned of this option and subscribed. Netflix has given us access to older programming that might not now be available on regular cable channels. One such series is Inspector Morse, a British series that would show up on Mystery Theater on PBS from time to time. The series actually ran from 1987 until 2000 but only 33 episodes were made. Each episode lasts about 100 minutes. After I realized that I could actually watch all of the episodes in order once my children educated me on the intricacies of Netflix, I began a systematic viewing of the series, beginning with the oldest. I managed to avoid binge watching. Denise attributed that more to the incredibly slow pace of the show rather than to my commitment to delayed gratification. As it turns out, the show in question was the very last episode televised. Moreover, in my opinion it certainly qualifies as one of the best made in the entire 14 years the series was on the air.

The word occurred when the actor who played Inspector Morse, John Thaw, recited a poem that contains it. With a word that unusual I assumed it might be a simple task to determine its original source. It turns out that it is contained in a line from a poem written by Alfred E. Houseman, an English writer of the 19th and early 20th century. I remember my senior high English teacher, Ms. Tomberlin had the class read “When I Was One and Twenty” by the same author. And like Ms. Tomberlin, evidently Inspector Morse had a lot of poetry memorized because he recited most eloquently the following lines from the poem “May” by Houseman:

     Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day.

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I suppose it still seems a stretch as to why this reference might show up in a description of our time in Fes over the past few weeks. In reading the commentary on the show and the poem, a couple of themes appeared that are beginning to be more and more apparent in our thinking. Especially as we think about how much time we remain overseas, comparing the value of what we do there to what we do at home. Is it possible to quantify the optimal amount of time you are available for your children or grandchildren? Are we too self-absorbed with our “foreign” activity?

One theme is that we are aging, and we are in a season of life where mortality becomes if not a concern, at least a reality that must be faced. There might not be that much time left to complete those aspirations we once thought so important. The other is that important things in life need to be considered, as Morse counsels his faithful partner Seargent Lewis, “like life, and death, and regret.” I think the regret part is what really catalyzed my thinking about three weeks ago when I actually saw an “ensanguining” sky here in Fes. With the sun setting on my life, what things will I regret leaving undone?

I know I regret not learning Arabic any better than I have, even though I have plenty of excuses as to why that did not occur. I regret that I often failed to affirm the other in some relationships, not recognizing that differences might exist for reasons other than the presumed superiority of a particular point of view. I regret that unlike Morse, I never appreciated enough the importance of the “fine arts” and would that I might recognize that “opera and Wagner are about important things” as I referenced above. I did appreciate Morse’s addiction to crosswords puzzles though!

In the stanza preceding the one quoted in “The Remorseful Day”, there appears to me to be another truth expressed:

        To-day I shall be strong,
No more shall yield to wrong,
Shall squander life no more;
Days lost, I know not how,
I shall retrieve them now;
Now I shall keep the vow
I never kept before.

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I am not sure that I would get any points for correct interpretation of the words appearing here, but I can appreciate the way the words are put together. Maybe there will be some vows I am able to keep before “falls the remorseful day.”


If you would like to see the actual recitation of the stanza go to this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JapxnBpbRpE

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