Monday, May 11, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "May" (and Notes on the Fictional Life and Death of Inspector Morse)

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

I've just finished watching all thirty-three episodes of the British crime drama, Inspector Morse.  The shows, some of which were taken directly from the thirteen Inspector Morse novels of Colin Dexter and the others of which were based on characters created by Dexter, were roughly 100 minutes each and had a police-procedural focus.  The dramas were set in and around the city of Oxford, England, and its famous university.

The central character of this show was played by British actor John Thaw and he was ably assisted in his crime-solving by Detective Sergeant Lewis who was portrayed by actor Kevin Whatley.  Morse was older and a bit of a curmudgeon who was a stickler for the correct usage of English, and he took his crossword puzzles very seriously.  Morse was an aficionado of classical music and poetry.  He drove a classic red and black Jaguar which was easily recognized by the press and always created a stir whenever he arrived at a crime scene.   Morse often enjoyed a pint at the local pub to help with his "thinking," sometimes even during working hours, and he was also prone to forgetting his wallet and letting others pay for his drinks.   The inspector was a life-long bachelor who nevertheless had a keen eye for the ladies - some of whom were involved in his cases.  Though often a bit snarly, Morse was the epitome of a gentleman detective.  Lewis, on the other hand, was a younger family man who liked to go home at the end of a workday.   As characters in a drama, Morse and Lewis played off of each other beautifully.

Inspector Morse eventually died from alcohol-related illness in a novel entitled The Remorseful Day - and he expired the same way in the television episode based on that novel.  John Thaw, a smoker, died of esophageal cancer a year after the television program was wrapped up.  His memorial service was attended by Prince Charles and Mrs. Tony Blair - among many other dignitaries.

So far there have been two significant spin-offs from the series.  Actor Kevin Whately managed to get his character, Sergeant Lewis, promoted to inspector, and is now in the seventh season of Inspector Lewis.   Shaun Evans stars in another British show about a young Inspector Morse that is titled Endeavour, which was Morse's first name - one that he rarely acknowledged or used.  (Usually when asked for his first name, he would reply drolly, "Inspector.")  During one of the later shows when a woman was pressing Morse to learn his first name, he lamented with this clue:  "My whole life's effort has revolved around Eve."   The lady, a puzzle-solver like Morse, figured out that "around Eve" was an anagram for "Endeavour," the name bestowed upon Morse by his Quaker mother.

During the final episode of Inspector Morse, the one entitled The Remorseful Day, Morse quoted several lines from today's poetry selection, "May" by A. E. Housman.   Housman had been a student at St. John's College at Oxford, a place attended by the fictional Morse but where he failed to graduate.

Here is that poem.  It sounds like the thoughts of a man who is ready to meet death.

by A.E. Housman

Yonder see the morning blink:
    The sun is up, and up must I,
To wash and dress and eat and drink
And look at things and talk and think
    And work, and God knows why.

Oh often have I washed and dressed
    And what’s to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest:
Ten thousand times I’ve done my best
    And all’s to do again.
How clear, how lovely bright,
How beautiful to sight
    Those beams of morning play;
How heaven laughs out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from the eastern sea
    Soars the delightful day.
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.

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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