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(24 January 1572 - 31 March 1631 / London, England)

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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.

Submitted: Monday, May 14, 2001


Read poems about / on: lust, sun, death, world, summer, spring, light, running

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  • Jon Fogerty (1/24/2010 4:27:00 PM)

    This is Donne in melancholy mood: deep, dark despair following the death of his wife, Anne. All of his great love poems were written for her. And here, in what is the very anti-thesis of all those love poems, he is addressing the loss of Anne- her death. It is a difficult poem but, in my opinion, one of Donne's great, great works- perhaps even greater than any of the love poems or the Holy Sonnets. Why do I say this? - because it addresses the deep, personal loss, the anguish, the pain, the sense of futility, helplessness and isolation that he feels when contemplating the finality of death, the final breaking up with the one he loved, a breaking up that cannot be reversed. The language is stark, uncompromising: 'I am every dead thing' he says. He contemplates the prospect of those who are discovering love for the first time and urges them to look at him now, facing the end of love 'study me then you who would lovers be' he writes. He is urging them to be prepared for what love will ultimately lead to: loss, pain, aloneness when the loved one is gone, the realisation that, at the end, he must 'prepare towards her' that without his beloved there is nothing, just the wait to join her in death.

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