A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day

Original Text: 
John Donne, Poems, by J. D. With elegies on the authors death (M. F. for J. Marriot, 1633). MICF no. 556 ROBA. Facs. edn. Menston: Scolar Press, 1969. PR 2245 A2 1633A. STC 7045.
2Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
5           The world's whole sap is sunk;
8Dead and interr'd; yet all these seem to laugh,
9Compar'd with me, who am their epitaph.
10Study me then, you who shall lovers be
11At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
12      For I am every dead thing,
13      In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
16From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
18Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.
19All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
20Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
22      Of all that's nothing. Oft a flood
23           Have we two wept, and so
24Drown'd the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
25To be two chaoses, when we did show
26Care to aught else; and often absences
27Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.
28But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
30      Were I a man, that I were one
32           If I were any beast,
33Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
35If I an ordinary nothing were,
36As shadow, a light and body must be here.
37But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
38You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
40      To fetch new lust, and give it you,
41           Enjoy your summer all;
42Since she enjoys her long night's festival,
43Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
44This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
45Both the year's, and the day's deep midnight is.


1] St. Lucy's day, Dec. 13, was regarded as the shortest day in the old (Julian) calendar. Back to Line
3] flasks: obsolete variant of flashes. Back to Line
4] squibs: (unimpressive) fireworks. Back to Line
6] general balm. It was thought that, as Donne puts it in one of his verse letters, "In everything there naturally grows / A Balsamum [balm] to keep it fresh and new."
hydroptic: dropsical. Back to Line
7] Miss Gardner notes that in Hippocrates' famous description of the signs of imminent death the dying man huddles at the foot of the bed. Back to Line
14] express: press out. Back to Line
15] quintessence: the fifth essence of ancient and mediaeval philosophy and alchemy, latent inall things and the substance of the heavenly bodies. Back to Line
17] ruin'd: probably used in an alchemical sense of reducing to elements. absence, darkness, death probably correspond to the three basic elements of alchemy: salt, sulphur, mercury. Back to Line
21] limbec: alembic for distillation. Back to Line
29] elixir: quintessence. Back to Line
31] prefer: be able to select and reject. Donne is comparing the powers possessed by man, beasts, plants, and stones. Grierson quotes from a sermon in which Donne says that even stones, though they have not even a vegetable soul, "may have life'' and may therefore select and reject, i.e., "detest and love." Back to Line
34] invest: clothe. Back to Line
39] the Goat: Capricorn; at the winter solstice the sun enters Capricorn. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
3RP 1.169-70.