John Donne's "A Nocturnal upon St.Lucy’s Day" : Expresses the Nadir of Suffering


John   Donne and his school are unique in the realm of English poetry by virtue of its amiability and erudition, feeling and thought, experience and education, As T.S Eliot so pertinently pointed out in the famous essays “The Metaphysical Poets”:” In Donne there is a direct sensuous apprehension of thought or a recreation of thought into feeling.” A poet of the intellect he garners images from diverse fields of education, an experience especially nature and religion –in order to express an emotion which world other wise have appeared either a cynic or a celebrant of love, as exemplified in The Song which declares that virtue and beauty cannot co-exist, or the Ecstasy, Which is a triumphant celebration of carnal and spiritual love. A Nocturnal upon St.Lucy’s Day is a poem which expresses the nadir of suffering. The death of beloved leads the poet to lose his attraction for nature and natural life and transcend this life for images from geography and astronomy; nature and religion serve to intensify the emotional expressions.
The poem begins with a religious day celebrated on the shortest day  of the year ,thus uniting the turning tropes of nature and religion. The festival of St Lucy is a celebrated on 13th December which is the day of winter solstices, according to the of old Julian calendar. Since, the day is the shortest day of the year and since it is the most chilling day in the temperate region of England, this day is perhaps the most appropriate for the expression of grief.  The grief has been caused by the death of the poet’s beloved, who has been variously conjectured to the poet’s wife Anne more or some other unknown mistress. St Lucy’s day is a day of religious festivity, but also a day on which Lucy, which denotes the sun, seems to be in sorrow. In Latin the word Lucent denotes light and since it is the sun which gives life, it is often affectionately addressed as ‘Lucy’. The poet calls day, ‘the years midnight ‘because the sun’s light does not stay more than seven hours. Sun is the source of all life, and when the sun itself is exhausted can ‘spent’ the entire world –both elemental and vegetative appear to be dead. The earth seems to have sipped all vitality from all living beings . When the poet compares himself to such a lifeless nature, he seems to be in much worse state:
“yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.”
Even the devitalized condition of nature-world appears as vigorously living in contrast to him.The poet proceeds to express his deadened condition by the alchemic image of being materially transformed.  In the medieval concept was of base metal changed into gold, here the metaphor is used for the change of the active living man into the chaos, which existed before the creation of the universe by god: "A quintessence even from nothingness



He has been changed into something that comprises absence, darkness, death and emptiness. In comparison even plants and trees ,rocks and stones have life . According to the prevailing notions of The great chain of Being scala naturae, all things on earth are arranged in hierarchical series . At the lowest level of existence are the stones which have no life though this have some properties . Above them are the vegetate life which has life but no sensation and above them the animals which have life and sensation. At the highest level is mankind which has life ,sensation and knowledge . Not only does the poet not have the distinguishing quality of man after the death of his beloved, but also lacks the proper ties of the lowest kinds of existence :
" 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.
"   
In the Ecstasy ,the poet speaks of that condition in which the lovers souls end out  from this bodies  is for journey commuted spiritual animation .Their souls are undying .But in the case of the present lovers the bodies are ‘dead  carcasses' both literally and figuratively .The beloved has expired and therefore the body is no more than a corpse ,the love has lost all his jest for living ,and is therefore figuratively died:
 ".. often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses."
After the series of images from Astronomy  Donne uses images from religious and spiritual life to signifier to signify his transcendence . Other lovers may still look for reinvention at the next spring and be lustful like fabled goat .But the poet , the transfigured lover ,would give up the sensual feast for spiritual just as the spiritual prison undergoes a trance –life experience before his mystic vision ,the poet would undergo period of vigil ,a reverse ,before his ultimate union with the departed soul . The movement of the poem and transit of the poet’s mind is from nature to religion, from sensuality to spirituality ,from the temporal to the external.


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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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