Saturday, 27 September 2008
Pretty much required reading every year at this time, here's the best midwinter poem in the language. Its austere, apophatic mystery encapsulates perfectly why I hate Christmas. The modern British Christmas jars with everything which I feel deep down in my bones and heart about the meaning of this time of year; right at the centre of it, amid all this frozen gunk and darkness, there is this moment of transcendence, something so frail and abstract, somehow, that it cannot be grasped, only apprehended neutrally, meditatively. Strange. Winter Solstice is - is this the right way to put it? - the most Buddhist time of year. All the other festivals are like feelings - sensual, hormonal and fleshy. Winter Solstice is like a thought; cool and crystalline, poised.
Now for Donne.
A Nocturnall Upon St. Lucies Day, Being The Shortest Day
’Tis the yeares midnight, and it is the dayes,
Lucies, who scarce seaven houres herself unmaskes,
The Sunne is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rayes;
The worlds whole sap is sunke:
The generall balme th’ hydroptique earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the beds-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with mee, who am their Epitaph.
Study me then, you who shall lovers bee
At the next world, that is, at the next Spring:
For I am every dead thing,
In whom love wrought new Alchimie.
For his art did expresse
A quintessence even from nothingnesse,
From dull privations, and leane emptinesse:
He ruin’d mee, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darknesse, death—things which are not.
All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soule, forme, spirit, whence they beeing have;
I, by loves limbecke, am the grave
Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have wee two wept, and so
Drownd the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two Chaosses, when we did show
Care to ought else; and often absences
Withdrew our soules, and made us carcasses.
But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing, the Elixer grown;
Were I a man, that I were one,
I needs must know; I should preferre,
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 Sunne renew.
You lovers, for whose sake, the lesser Sunne
At this time to the Goat is runne
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all;
Since shee enjoyes her long nights festivall,
Let mee prepare towards her, and let mee call
This houre her Vigill, and her Eve, since this
Bothe the yeares, and the dayes deep midnight is.