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John Donne : A Nocturnall upon Saint Lucies day

’Tis the yeares midnight1, and it is the dayes,
Lucies, who scarce seaven houres herself unmaskes,
	The Sunne is spent, and now his flasks
	Send forth light squibs, no constant rayes;
		The worlds whole sap is sunke:
The generall balme th’hydroptique2 earth hath
					drunk,
Whither, as to the beds-feet, life is shrunke,
Dead and enterr’d; yet all these seeme to laugh,
Compar’d with mee, who am their Epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers bee
At the next world, that is, at the next Spring:
	For I am every dead thing,
	In whom love wrought new Alchimie.
		For his art did expresse
A quintessence even from nothingnesse,
From dull privations, and leane emptinesse:
He ruin’d mee, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death; things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soule, forme, spirit, whence they beeing have;
	I, by loves limbecke3, am the grave
	Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood
		Have wee two wept, and so
Drownd the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two Chaosses, when we did show
Care to ought else; and often absences
Withdrew our soules, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death, (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing, the Elixer grown4;
	Were I a man, that I were one,
	I needs must know; I should preferre,
		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 Sunne renew.
You lovers, for whose sake, the lesser Sunne
	At this time to the Goat5 is runne
	To fetch new lust, and give it you,
		Enjoy your summer all;
Since shee enjoyes her long nights festivall,
Let mee prepare towards her, and let mee call
This houre her Vigill, and her Eve, since this
Both the yeares, and the dayes deep midnight is. 

John Donne (1572-1631)	P. 1633

 
FOOTNOTES
1 St. Lucy was an early Christain martyr. She was said to have had her eyes torn out only for them to be restored miracuously. Her feast day is December 13 and during Donne’s time this corresponded with the winter solstice. She is associated with light and in some countries her feast day is celebrated with a festival of light; 2 unendingly thirsty; 3 apparatus used for distilling or refining ; 4 the elixir was a mythical substance, the quest of the alchemists – the suggestion here is that the poet has become the quintessence of the nothing which preceded creation; 5 the sun being in the constellation of Capricorn (“the goat”) at that time ;
 

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