How a poet says “sunset”


“The heavens are telling the glory of God and the expanse [of heaven] is declaring the work of his hands.” Psalm 19:1, The Amplified Bible

I think most of us associate positive connotations with the word sunset. Photos and paintings of sunsets normally are created and admired because of their brilliant color splashes across the sky and their moment in time with visible rays of sunlight (like the view pictured, which I photographed at Fairhope, Alabama). After the sunset thrills our eyes, the beauty of full darkness, when stars are sparkling overhead, captivates us, too. We find the night sky mesmerizing, thought-provoking, and romantic. See the Bible verse above and some stanzas of poetry below, all demonstrating a poetic response to the beauty of the heavens.

Contrast this with a young, unhappy child’s reaction to the hymn that begins, “Now the day is over, night is drawing nigh; Shadows of the evening steal across the sky.”1 In a classic children’s book, The Secret Language, eight-year-old Victoria North is a new boarding school student suffering crippling homesickness. When the quoted hymn is sung at the music hour after supper, it makes Victoria cry. I imagine she would have felt just the same if the selection had been a similar title with similar imagery, Day is Dying in the West. Mary A. Lathbury’s text has been classified as a funeral hymn, but, to the person not predisposed to be sad, it begins with reflective, well-crafted praise of God’s handiwork seen in sunset and then in the starlit sky:

“Day is dying in the west; heav’n is touching earth with rest;
Wait and worship while the night sets the evening lamps alight
Through all the sky.”2

A poet’s responses to beautiful sights often arise from thoughts that have turned serious, and serious contemplations sometimes progress toward the melancholy. Melancholy’s primary meaning is dismal, depressed, downcast, glum, mournful. But, there is a second category of meaning that isn’t about despair. Melancholy is similar to “sanguine” (as a personality type more than a passing mood), defined as pensive, analytical, and quiet. I didn’t realize the folks at Merriam-Webster ever met me!

Melancholy’s last four letters spell holy. A nice tie-in with the serious worship of God.

How another poet says “sunset”…

Have you taken in the fiery glow
Blazing brief and brilliant as the sun is sinking low
And sweeping strokes of graphite gray
Communicate the cryptic closing statement of the day?
How splendidly is fashioned this farewell!
And, never to diminish beauty’s spell,
The trees are draped in blackness where the day and night have met,
Stunning in their stately silhouette.*

*Have You Seen the Sky? (2002), stanza 4 of 6, by yours truly.

7 thoughts on “How a poet says “sunset”

  1. Because I work in a setting in which I can see beautiful sunsets on a regular basis, this post gave me more to be ‘pensive’ about when I look at the next one, hopefully this evening.

    K. Dennis Anderson
    Vestavia Hills Baptist Church
    2600 Vestavia Drive
    Birmingham, AL 35216


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