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Saturday, 14 December 2013

Saturday Rave: A Nocturnal upon St Lucy's Day by John Donne.

This poem is by John Donne 1572–1631. It was written soon after the deaths of both his daughter and of a great friend, both called Lucy.

St Lucy's Day, December 13th is, in some traditions, celebrated as the shortest day of the year.

A Nocturnal upon St Lucy's Day

'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,
Compar'd 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.
No one is really sure exactly what this poem means (it probably wasn't designed for publication) but that doesn't stop it being glorious.
John Donne lived on for many years after this poem was written, became a famous preacher, and went on to write much more hopefully about the transforming power of love.
Word To Use Today: alchemy. There are lots of words in this poem that are to do with alchemy, one of the aims of which is turn base metal into gold. Alchemy comes from the arabic al-kīmiyā , from al, which means the, plus kīmiyā, transformation, from the Greek khēmeia, the art of transmutation. 



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