'A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day, Being The Shortest Day' by John Donne
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'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.
Editor 1 Interpretation
A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day, Being The Shortest Day by John Donne
When it comes to poetry that is rich in metaphysical and religious themes, John Donne's name is always at the top of the list. His poem, "A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day, Being The Shortest Day," is a prime example of his mastery in wordplay, complex imagery, and deeper meanings. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, I will delve into the poem's structure, themes, and symbols to reveal the hidden messages that Donne embedded into his verses.
Structure and Form
At first glance, "A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day" may appear to be a simple poem, flaunting only nine stanzas with varying lengths, and a single refrain that repeats throughout the poem. However, a closer look reveals a more intricate structure that is essential to the poem's overall impact.
Each stanza is composed of two sections, the first section (lines 1-4) sets the scene of the speaker's state of mind, while the second section (lines 5-9) offers a reflection on his mental and emotional state. The repetition of the refrain, "I am every dead thing," at the end of each stanza, emphasizes the speaker's sense of hopelessness, despair, and isolation. The use of enjambment, caesura, and internal rhyme adds to the poem's musicality and rhythm, making it a joy to read out loud.
But perhaps, the most notable aspect of Donne's structure is the use of symbolism, which runs throughout the poem, linking the speaker's mental state to the natural world, and ultimately, to God.
Theme of Death
One cannot read "A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day" without sensing the theme of death that permeates the poem. The speaker's use of vivid and morbid imagery, such as "the world's whole sap is sunk," "the breath/ Of our extinguished seeing," and "the dying of the year," creates a bleak and melancholic atmosphere. The speaker, who is mourning the loss of his beloved Lucy, finds himself struggling to find meaning in a world that seems to be dying around him.
However, the theme of death in this poem is far more complex than a mere acceptance of mortality. The speaker's repeated refrain, "I am every dead thing," reveals a deeper existential crisis. He sees himself not only as one who is mourning the loss of his beloved but also as one who is dead to the world, disconnected from the living, and unable to find a purpose for his existence.
The theme of death is further explored through the poem's use of symbolism, such as the "bridegroom" who is "hanged," the "stabbed heart" of the "turtledove," and the "dead men's dust" that is "blown away." These symbols not only reflect the speaker's sense of isolation and despair but also allude to the Christian belief in the crucifixion, the Holy Spirit, and the resurrection.
Theme of Love and Loss
As with many of Donne's poems, the theme of love and loss is central to "A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day." The speaker's mourning for his beloved Lucy is palpable throughout the poem, from the opening lines where he describes the "darkest day" of the year as a metaphor for his sorrow, to the final stanza where he asks, "Why should I mourning die?" The speaker's longing for her presence is evident in his descriptions of her "beauty" and "sweetness," which he compares to the "day" and "light."
However, the theme of love and loss in this poem is not limited to the speaker's grief for his beloved. It also encompasses his estrangement from God, for whom he longs as much as he does for Lucy. The poem's use of religious imagery, such as the "bridegroom" and the "Holy Ghost," reflects the speaker's desire for a spiritual connection that he feels is missing from his life. In this way, the theme of love and loss becomes a metaphor for the speaker's search for purpose and meaning in a world that seems to be dying.
As previously mentioned, symbolism plays a crucial role in "A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day." The poem is full of metaphors and allusions that add depth and complexity to its themes. Let us examine some of the most significant symbols in the poem.
St. Lucy's Day and the Winter Solstice
The poem is titled "A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day, Being The Shortest Day," which establishes a link between the Saint and the symbolism of the Winter Solstice. In Christian tradition, St. Lucy is the patron saint of the blind, and her feast day falls on the shortest day of the year. This connection is essential to the poem's themes of darkness, blindness, and the search for light.
The Bridegroom and the Turtledove
The bridegroom and the turtledove are two symbols that appear throughout the poem. The bridegroom is first mentioned in the second stanza, where the speaker describes him as "hanged." This image is a reference to the crucifixion of Christ, who is often referred to as the "bridegroom" in Christian tradition. The bridegroom's death is a symbol of sacrifice and redemption, which the speaker longs for but cannot find.
The turtledove appears in the fourth stanza, where the speaker describes its "stabbed heart." This image is a reference to the Holy Spirit, which is often represented by a dove in Christian art. The turtledove's heart represents the speaker's own heart, which is longing for spiritual connection but is also wounded and bleeding.
Dust and Ashes
The imagery of dust and ashes appears several times in the poem, such as in the lines "Dust and ashes of the night" and "Ashes of lovers." These images are a reminder of the transience of life and the inevitability of death. However, they also represent the hope of resurrection and renewal, as in the Christian tradition, God is said to have created Adam from dust and ashes.
In conclusion, "A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day, Being The Shortest Day" is a poem that is rich in meaning and symbolism. Its themes of death, love, and loss are explored through the speaker's sense of isolation and despair, which is reflected in the natural world around him. The use of symbolism, such as St. Lucy's Day, the bridegroom, and the turtledove, add depth and complexity to the poem's themes, while the repetition of the refrain, "I am every dead thing," emphasizes the speaker's existential crisis.
John Donne's mastery in wordplay, complex imagery, and deeper meanings make "A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day" a timeless poem that continues to resonate with readers today. Its exploration of the human condition, our search for meaning and connection, and our struggle to come to terms with mortality, are themes that are as relevant now as they were in Donne's time.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
John Donne’s “A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being The Shortest Day” is a poem that explores the themes of grief, loss, and the transience of life. Written in 1627, the poem is a meditation on the death of a loved one, and the speaker’s attempt to come to terms with the loss. The poem is divided into nine stanzas, each of which explores a different aspect of the speaker’s grief.
The poem begins with the speaker describing the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The day is a metaphor for the speaker’s own life, which he sees as being in a state of darkness and despair. The speaker is mourning the loss of a loved one, and he feels as though his own life is coming to an end. He describes the world around him as being cold and lifeless, and he feels as though he is surrounded by death.
In the second stanza, the speaker describes the memory of his loved one. He remembers her beauty and her grace, and he longs to be with her again. He feels as though he is lost without her, and he is struggling to come to terms with her death. He describes her as being like a star in the sky, shining brightly and guiding him through the darkness.
In the third stanza, the speaker reflects on the nature of grief. He acknowledges that grief is a natural part of the human experience, and that it is something that everyone must go through at some point in their lives. He describes grief as being like a storm, with waves crashing over him and threatening to overwhelm him. He feels as though he is drowning in his own sorrow, and he longs for the storm to pass.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker reflects on the nature of love. He acknowledges that love is a powerful force, and that it can bring both joy and pain. He describes his love for his lost one as being like a flame, burning brightly and consuming him. He feels as though he is still connected to her, even though she is no longer with him.
In the fifth stanza, the speaker reflects on the nature of death. He acknowledges that death is a natural part of life, and that it is something that everyone must face eventually. He describes death as being like a thief, stealing away his loved one and leaving him alone. He feels as though he has been robbed of something precious, and he is struggling to come to terms with the loss.
In the sixth stanza, the speaker reflects on the nature of faith. He acknowledges that faith is a powerful force, and that it can bring comfort and solace in times of grief. He describes his faith as being like a beacon, shining brightly and guiding him through the darkness. He feels as though his faith is the only thing that is keeping him going, and he clings to it desperately.
In the seventh stanza, the speaker reflects on the nature of time. He acknowledges that time is a powerful force, and that it can heal all wounds. He describes time as being like a river, flowing inexorably towards the sea. He feels as though he is being carried along by the current of time, and he is powerless to stop it.
In the eighth stanza, the speaker reflects on the nature of memory. He acknowledges that memory is a powerful force, and that it can keep the memory of his loved one alive. He describes his memories of her as being like a garden, full of beautiful flowers and sweet scents. He feels as though his memories are the only thing that he has left of her, and he cherishes them dearly.
In the final stanza, the speaker reflects on the nature of hope. He acknowledges that hope is a powerful force, and that it can bring light to even the darkest of places. He describes his hope as being like a star, shining brightly in the sky. He feels as though his hope is the only thing that is keeping him going, and he clings to it desperately.
In conclusion, John Donne’s “A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being The Shortest Day” is a powerful meditation on grief, loss, and the transience of life. The poem explores the themes of love, death, faith, time, memory, and hope, and it does so with a depth and complexity that is truly remarkable. The poem is a testament to the power of poetry to express the deepest emotions of the human heart, and it is a work that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.
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