Today, December 13, is Saint Lucy’s Day. In John Donne’s time, when the old calendar was still in use, it fell upon (and was, therefore, the feast of) the winter solstice. Donne wrote the poem as he was coming to the end of his days as a ladies’ man. In the poem he lets the reader know that the experience is growing ever more degrading. Soon he would marry, take religious orders and begin his later phase writing mystical religious poems.
The earlier poems, with their adoption of scientific metaphors, are the single greatest inspiration to my book of poems MindDance. Some of all of that is evident in this transitional poem.
'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.
I plan to continue the celebration of the incredible diversity of our universe and my return to poetry on the Mind Dance Facebook page during the days ahead. It is intended to be something of a bridge between Mind Dance and the next book of poetry. Everything that fascinates me and that might come together as a new poem is fair game. The intention is to look on in wonder and to have a lot of fun. I hope you will click the “Like” button and join that fun.
- Check out the English Renaissance Article Index for many more articles and reviews about this fascinating time and about the Shakespeare Authorship Question.