The Winter Solstice in Orlando, Florida, U.S.A. is on Sunday, December 21, 2014 at 6:03 PM EST


Well, St. Lucy’s Day was exactly a week ago, but when John Donne wrote this poem, one of my all-time favorites, in the time of Cromwell’s Commonwealth, England still used the Julian Calendar rather than the Gregorian, and so the shortest day of the year fell on the Feast of St. Lucy, my late grandmother Helen Lucy Eugenie’s baptismal day (her birthday was December 2).  I miss her still, 13 and three quarters of a year after she died, more than I know how to express.  But at least I can talk to her daughter Alice Anne Eugenie, my mother, every day.  

Today we recalled my first “acting” gig—when I was in First Grade and played “Joseph” in the Nativity Play at John S. Armstrong elementary in Highland Park, which used to be a very special place to live in Texas.  The part of Mary was played by Liebe Wetzel who really did go on to have a career in show business, having founded a puppet theatre in San Francisco.  But the truth is that today (Sunday 21 December 2014) is really the shortest day and longest night:

A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day

BY JOHN DONNE

‘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.

POETJohn Donne 1572–1631

One response to “The Winter Solstice in Orlando, Florida, U.S.A. is on Sunday, December 21, 2014 at 6:03 PM EST

  1. I have to force myself to read Donne, once I decide to do it. I find his writing arduous to read. I nearly always have to look up words which I imagine he used just to force readers through such torture. He could have written thirsty instead of hydroptic, and stil instead of limbec, for example.

    And I have a hard time appreciating his self-effacement in nearly everything he writes, particularly since his pedantic style then reveals a supercilious contradiction of feigned humility. I won’t go so far as to say his words never should have been writ. But I deem them more appropriate for the bored than for impatient me. I want him to get to the point, and he lollygags so.

    Yes, St. Lucy’s day or thereabout is the longest day of the year. And so…? He could have called it the Winter Solstice, a much more popular term in the Northern Hemisphere. See what I mean?

    Speaking of which, I noticed the Clearwater Florida sky becoming crepuscular at about 2:30 PM yesterday, 21 December 2014. And frankly, I enjoyed kicking back and doing nothing but to love on Maria as the day became darker and danker in its wintry mood.

    As Donne pointed out, he barely had 7 hours of daylight (in the general murk of an English winter, at that) to scribble his Nocturnal. Had a Maria become entangled with him, we would never have seen it.

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