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A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day

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John Donne, an English Renaissance poet unfairly disregarded at his times, belongs to metaphysical poets, which means that his verses have several lyrical layers and allow multiple interpretations. One may say that they exist at the junction of poetry and philosophy. This peculiar feature can also be traced in the poem “A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day”, a very personal literary creation containing several cultural references.

Some literary critics claim that there was an actual Lucy in Donne’s life – a beloved who passed away. This personal emotional experience is aggravated by the dark time, the shortest day of the year – St. Lucy’s Day (13 December). Such parallels between personal and general continue throughout the verse. Poem’s title provides reference to a serenade, a night love song, which only deepens the sad mood of the author who has nobody to sing for. Existential gloom might be called a leading emotion of the poem, when exhaustion of nature reflects on the tired people. Reference to death, burial and decay are proofs of such a mood. Calling himself an epitaph the lyrical character reveals his own connection to such dark topics.  The author compares his state after the ultimate loss with the difficulty of being apart for a short time when his lady was still alive. He is so pessimistic that he claims the sun will never shine for him again, which is also a bilateral statement: on the one hand, the dark winter day leads to such reflections, and on the other hand it may be considered a display of despair and hasty conclusions of the man who lost his love. The rhythm of the verse with its long lines contributes to the atmosphere of calm unhappiness.

Lexical aspect of the verse is a hallmark of John Donne’s style. Apart from being written in Middle English of the 17th century, which implies usage of the archaic word forms, the poem presents a semantic challenge to the readers. In order to interpret it right one must realize that this verse is filled with metaphors. Donne, for example, calls the earth “hydroptic” meaning that it is swollen, and mentioning “the general balm” might be a sign of it being full of something soothing. Expressing “quintessence even from nothingness”, that is, basically, something intense and special from nothing is the peculiar feature of love emphasized by Donne. Being “re-begot” by “things which are not” is a vivid metaphor, and the harder it is to decipher it. By all means, this line complies with the deep existential character of the rest of the poem. “Love’s limbec”, according to Donne, is a person who runs love through one’s being. Thus, imagery of the poem is unique and very philosophical.

Scientific references may also be found in “A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day”. Metaphysical nature of Donne’s poetry has its reflection in mentioning alchemy and elixirs. Although one should understand that metaphors are one of the most frequent means used in the poem, the author not only tries to explain the strong magic of love, but also obviously seeks for means to get his beloved back. Logical conclusions as a part of the scientific strata of the poem are also evident and unveil themselves through several stanzas. Reference to “unus mundus” as to the idea that everything in the world is interrelated is displayed by the form of the verse itself – its frame construction – and also by mentioning life of the soul in inanimate entities (metempsychosis) popularized by Neoplatonism, a mystical Ancient philosophy. “Unus mundus” emerged from psychology and was developed by Carl Jung. Only through the layer of years one can relate the poem by John Donne to this concept.

The analysis of the poem “A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day”by John Donne reveals that its literary level is not the only one presenting interest to the readers. Clear references to different branches of science make the verse valuable for a broad readership, and once again prove a deep character of creations of this metaphysical poet.

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