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  • Writer's pictureTerry Pace

Sundown

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (RIP 1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893. In the Harbor, page 353.

THE SUMMER sun is sinking low; Only the tree-tops redden and glow: Only the weathercock on the spire Of the neighboring church is a flame of fire All is in shadow below. O beautiful, awful summer day, What hast thou given, what taken away? Life and death, and love and hate, Homes made happy or desolate, Hearts made sad or gay! On the road of life one mile-stone more! In the book of life one leaf turned o’er! Like a red seal is the setting sun On the good and the evil men have done,— Naught can to-day restore!


This poem was first published in 1882, just after Longfellow's death within the collection called In the Harbor. It is one of the poems I have returned to many times to ground my perspective or to at least connect with someone else who thinks as I do. For all the good in any day, such as a long summer day, there is always loss and pain happening too. Its right to enjoy life, have our summer fun, but never forget those who cannot be with us; those in illness, in harms way, or facing oppression. The poem calls for awareness and respect for all of life. There is profound beauty in this world and even among us homo sapiens, but empathy, care, and respect for others and the natural world we all live within is called for if we are to be fully human, who can think broadly and feel deeply the life and blood that pulses through us all. I have often tried to watch the sunset and to use this time to reflect (or pray) about the joy and the pain, the achievements celebrated and the losses suffered in my own life, but even more so in those around me, expanding to the world. It has been a helpful habit over the years for someone like me who has tried to be of service to others in distress. Empathy is like a muscle and is only strengthened when we actively seek it and use it. Give it a try if you wish but you may feel a lot of things you are not aware of if such practices are not usual for you. But remember the goal is empathy and understanding, not judging.

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