Grey chilly misty morning

Fearghal Duffy: ‘Being the Shortest Day’

Since today is the winter’s solstice, the shortest day of the year, I thought it a good idea to post a poem, which to my mind, perfectly captures what I personally intuit this time of the year to be about. Although the modern Christmas is very glitzy and gaudy and driven by a shallow consumerism, there is, away from the brightly lit shops and towns, a real crepuscular quality to this time of the year, an almost perpetual darkness and a sense of gloom, and yet, at the very nadir of this season, there is, in this morning’s very first rays of light, a diaphanous and mystical quality that pierces the darkness, making it perhaps the most transcendental time of the year.


Anyway, here is the poem:

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


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