Saint Lucy's Day - The Year's Midnight

reposted from: Costing Not Less Than Everything.


The Last Communion of Saint Lucy – Tiepolo

A Nocturnal Upon Saint Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day –  John Donne

‘TIS the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’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 limbeck, 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.

This source says the following about this bleak poem:

‘The poem ‘A Nocturnal upon S. Lucy’s Day, being the shortest day’ concerns the poet’s despair at the death of a loved one. In it Donne expresses a feeling of utter negation and hopelessness, saying that “I am every dead thing…re-begot / Of absence, darkness, death”. This famous work was probably written in 1627 when both Donne’s friend Lucy, Countess of Bedford and his daughter Lucy Donne died. It is interesting to note that three years later in 1630 Donne wrote his will on Saint Lucy’s day (December 13th), the date the poem describes as “Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight.” ‘

This is a sad and gloomy poem – jarring in our age of the ‘positive’ – but I think that, by acknowledging the dark and the darkness of grief, Donne, that master-poet of the human spirit, who writes in other works of light and happiness, shows us also how to understand and rejoice in the light and the joy of love, romantic, marital and familial.  St Lucy’s Day is celebrated in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries with candles and is marked in Saint Lucia, the Caribbean island,with lights, lanterns and fireworks.  And we know that at the end of Advent, light is shown to us.


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