Happy St. Lucy’s Day

800px-Adèle_Söderberg_-_Christmas_card
This isn’t exactly a jolly holiday poem, but it is a beautiful one, in its melancholy way, written the year that Donne lost two important Lucys in his life: a good friend and his eighteen-year-old daughter. St. Lucy’s Day seemed to hold a particular significance for him ever after: he composed his will on that day, three years later.But if St. Lucy’s Day was sad for Donne, it doesn’t have to be for everyone else. Most often, the day is celebrated–especially in Scandinavia and Italy–as a festival of light. In Norway and Sweden, young girls would dress as Lucy in white gowns sashed with red and a crown of candles on their heads. On December 13, the girls would rouse their families with song, then serve them coffee and saffron buns made just for the occasion. (I just hope the buns were good enough to compensate for being awakened that early in the morning!)

Happy St. Lucy’s Day!

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being The Shortest 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.

–John Donne (1572-1631)

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