Sunday, December 12, 2010

St Lucy's Day

Finally found a church where the liturgy seems to arise from and enhance silence—except—why does there always have to be a fly in the ointment? (I know, I know, to keep us humble)—when the clergy appeared in birettas I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Fortunately their carrying on in the sanctuary was so physically elevated that one didn't have to look.

The light today (the 12th) could not have been lovelier: honey-coloured and almost horizontal, caressing the beautiful stone of the Radcliffe Observatory, soaking into nooks and crannies of grand and modest buildings alike. We are having a slight thaw, which looks to turn on Thursday to grim cold and snow. But today it was warm enough to start clearing the overgrown garden. To my joy, we found a Clematis montana elizabeth, one of my favourites. It blooms on old wood, so that while the cutting we did today will decrease the bloom this coming spring, we can look forward to fountains of blossom the year after.

It's after sundown as I write, so liturgically it's now St Lucy's day. Before the calendar change in 1752, St Lucy's day fell on the solstice. It inspired one of John Donne's greatest poems. I've posted it before, but it's worth posting again:

by John Donne

'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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this post. It was a delight to read Donne's poem again.

Also delightful have been the last few posts about exploring chapels in Oxford and elsewhere. I did not know names like Byrd and Couperin and have been inspired to learn more about them.

If you are ever at a loss for something to post, please consider a little tutorial for people like me who love silence but would also love to learn more about sacred music that will support us as contemplatives.

10:14 pm, December 13, 2010  

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