Favourite Poet | John Donne

Being as this is calling all poets to help us out, we thought it might be nice to chat about some poetry. One of the team involved in compiling ‘The Wait’ has chosen their favourite snippet of poetry to share with you, and posted the full poem below if you want to check it out in its entirety.

John Donne’s ‘A Nocturnal Upon St Lucy’s Day’

‘Although I’m a sucker for a bit of chunky Renaissance poetry, full on love poetry usually makes me a little uncomfortable. That probably says quite a lot about my emotional comfort zone, but we won’t go into that. However, this poem contains the only instance of love poetry that touched my cold heart in any true, uncringey way –

‘…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.’

‘That magical bit about growing to be two chaoses is, for me, the perfect explanation of the wildness of being alive and in love. Two chaoses who show no regard for anything except each other, who weep together through sharing their pain, and feel like empty carcasses when they are apart. Its all made more poignant by the painful grief permeating the poem, and the certain knowledge that Donne’s love is dead. There is something deeply primal about describing lovers as two chaoses that I have tried, and failed, to put into words – it’s just something that the words of the poem made me feel, that is innate and beyond language.’

The Full Poem:

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day

‘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.

With thanks to the Poetry Foundation – http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173378

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