'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,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.
In John Donne's time, this, the 13th December, St Lucy's Day, was understood to be the shortest day, the darkest time of the year. Annihilated by grief and despair at the death of his wife, the spark of his intellect confounded and nearly extinguished in conceits that go nowhere, tortuous attempts to express the inexpressible, the fire of his lust for her alien and distant to him, he saw the Day as encapsulating the utter darkness in his spirit.
I think my mother knew I was born on the eve of St Lucy's and it was in her mind when I was named. When I first encountered Donne's Nocturne, it was at a period in my young life when the darkness and the fear of it threatened to overwhelm me, at the midwinter point of my birth and the times leading up to it most of all. I liked the poem because it had my name on it, and because it looked the darkness in the face.
Now I live in a way and a place where the darkness is held at bay. The cold may be yet to come, but the days will soon lengthen, the light increase. The solstice days are short, but a few leaves still speckle the trees with colour, and where they have left, the twigs can be seen already to hold the buds for the spring's new leaves.
The winter wheat throws a haze and a striping of luminous gold-green over the shape of the land.
Donne's despair is not mine. Darkness, horror, despair, lurk beyond the threshold, but the door is closed to them. I'll cringe in the shadows no longer, but carry my light for as long as it will burn.
'The night goes great and mute.
Now one hears its wings in every silent room murmuring as if from wings.
Look at our threshold.
There she stands white-clad with lights in her hair Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia'
(Translated from a Swedish song to St Lucy, her feast day being much celebrated there)