Though it's no longer the shortest day in the year, I still felt the feast deserved a
little attention. After all, Darling Daughter is named in honour of this saint of light, and you can surely never have too many glimpses of angelic children crowned with candles.
My first introduction to the day came in my teens when I met the gloomy majesty of this poem by John Donne
A NOCTURNAL UPON ST. LUCY'S DAY,
BEING THE SHORTEST 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,
Compared 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.
Bleak midwinter indeed! It makes my spine tingle just to read that...
"this Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is".
However, as I'm feeling rather more human today than I have of late, here are some more optimistic words of Thomas Merton's, which appeared as part of our diocesan "Praying Advent Together" material this morning. I specially like the play on console/solstice in the last line.
Lucy, whose day is in our darkest season,
(Although your name is full of light,)
We walkers in the murk and rain of flesh and sense,
Lost in the midnight of our dead world’s winter solstice,
Look for the fogs to open on your friendly star.
Martyr, whose short day sees our winter and our Calvary,
Show us some light, who seem forsaken by the sky:
We have so dwelt in darkness that our eyes are screened and dim,
And all but blinded by the weakest ray.
Hallow the vespers and December of our life, O martyred Lucy:
Console our solstice with your friendly day