Wednesday, December 13, 2006

St Lucy's Day

Today is St Lucy's Day, giving me the excuse to post one of my very favourite poems: John Donne's Nocturnall Upon St Lucie's Day, composed before 1582 (and the Julian calendar reform) when 13 December was the longest day. It is a mourning poem, at once depressing yet beautiful. (Mind you, what first made me fall in love with St Lucy's Day was watching Blue Peter back in the 60s, when they showed footage of little Scandinavian girls celebrating St Lucy's Day as a festival of light, wearing crowns of greenery and candles, and it looks as if alan Dart, who designs knitted toys, was impressed, too, see his pattern for the latest edition of Simply Knitting!)

A NOCTURNALL UPON ST. LUCIE'S DAY,
BEING THE SHORTEST DAY.
by John Donne

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucie's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death - things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death-which word wrongs her-
Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know ; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love ; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.

Meanwhile, today is late night shopping night at work, so even though St Lucy's Day is no longer the solstice, and therefore the longest day of the year, it might just feel like it for me! At least I'm not working all day. Hope to finish my crocheted scarf for Ma and to get knitting a scarf for Dad (I've some Noro Silk Garden in surprisingly restrained shades of brown and grey which will be perfect).

1 comment:

E-J said...

I remember studying the metaphysical poets at school ... Donne was always my favourite, even if most of his oeuvre was aimed at luring some potential mistress into his bed, bless him. "The Good Morrow" is particularly lovely. Thanks for sharing this one, I didn't know it!