St Lucy’s Day

A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day

By John Donne

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

vvv

NOTE: Originally the winter solstice was observed on St Lucy’s Day – 13th December – and although by the time this poem was written (1627) the new Gregorian calendar had been introduced, St Lucy’s Day was still widely considered to be the shortest day of the year. However, Donne seems to have chosen the date to express his despair at the death that year of his friend Lucy, and his daughter Lucy Donne.
John Donne’s poetry was brought alive to me at A level English by my wonderful teacher Janet Bond… Donne became one of my favourite poets of all time, and I recommend the CD of Richard Burton (what a voice!) reading some of Donne’s love poems. (His rendition of “The Sun Rising” gives me goose pimples!)
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One thought on “St Lucy’s Day

  1. My goodness do you remember studying John Donne at school for A’level English? What was that teacher’s name? The memories have come flooding back even back to the classroom. I was never that keen at school but you seeit with different eyes when you are older and wiser.

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