Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day

I'm a believer in long winter's naps. I think if I lived by myself, I would pretty much hibernate for the winter. So I didn't get up--or worse yet, stay up--to see the lunar eclipse last night. I did see that the moon on the crest of the old-fallen snow gave the luster of sunset to objects below. That would have been around 4 am U.S. eastern time.

I share John Donne's fear of the dark in his poem about the winter solstice, "A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day"--a poem written after the death of his beloved wife:

'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 the hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interred; 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 ruined 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
Drowned 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.

When I think of the line about "absence, darkness, death," I also try to think of the ending of this poem, in which the speaker resolves to "prepare towards" summer and to "call/This hour her Vigil." I like the way it implies that a person will be nobler after suffering through these long nights.

How about you--do you curse the darkness or light a candle?

7 comments:

kittiesx3 said...

It's harder to enjoy winter in New England because the daylight hours are so short. I drive to work as the sun comes up and I drive home in full dark.

I take vitamin D now. I never had to do that in the Midwest but I sure do here.

FreshHell said...

Well, you know summer is my season. I like sunlight but I could do without the DST tinkering with time. Unnecessary.

That said, I like darkness as well. I sleep best in a completely pitch black room. I love living out in the country with no light pollution, no street lights, just the moon and the stars. I'm afraid to light a candle lest I burn the place down.

Amanda said...

We got up to see the eclipse last night. Sadly, clouds were moving into SA. At the beginning, when the shadow first started going over, we could see the moon every few seconds. By the time it got to a quarter covered, we only got a small glimpse every five mins or so. :(

Nymeth said...

I light a candle, but I AM afraid of the dark. Christmas does a lot to help me through it, but I find January and February so bleak. Even if the darkness is already receding then.

Jenny said...

I light a candle, but then I probably curse the darkness anyway. :p I am looking forward to longer days, though -- I'm thinking I will start getting up a bit earlier and doing some writing in the mornings. We'll see.

I missed the eclipse. I really wanted to see it, but not enough to stay up so late for it.

Mumsy said...

I neither curse the darkness nor light a candle...I moved to Louisiana so I could have sunshine all year. :P Because winter in Maine was draining all my inner light.

And I love John Donne. I visited the National Portrait Gallery in London once with Jenny and we saw his portrait before we saw his name, and we were all, "WHO is this man of mystery with his come-hither gaze?"

Jeanne said...

Elizabeth, hmm, and does vitamin D help with your mood? I've considered one of those sun lamps, but they're expensive and I'm a pyrophobe.

FreshHell, as usual, I am so with you. I own some candles, but don't burn them unless I've burned brussels sprouts or cooked a smelly fish. And I do like sleeping in a very dark room; in fact, if I'm in a dim room, I get sleepy (unless it's the movies or a theater, where one wall is very much lit up).

Amanda, what a shame, after all that effort! Glimpses can be exciting, though.

Nymeth, sometimes it does help me to remember that the days are getting longer in January.

Jenny, trust you to pick both options!
I hope you do some writing this year; I like to read almost anything you write.

Mumsy, your solution is such a good one! Someday I'd like to come visit you down there because I have a feeling we'd get along like a house afire.

For example: my father and I had the best time in London at the National Portrait Gallery. That's where we came up with our plan about having our portraits painted: we will wear red. Because that looks the best on anyone with dark hair.

And yes, Donne did have a come-hither look. His love story was a scandal and then an inspiration for his age; I believe he must have had a lot of charisma.