Speaker’S Transformation By Love In ‘A Nocturnal Upon St Lucy’S Day Being The Shortest Day’

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer


‘A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day’ is a metaphysical poem written by John Donne. In this poem the speaker struggles over the fact that his beloved is no more. The poet has used St Lucy as a metaphor to portray his own saint like beloved. He talks about winter solstice, which is also known as St Lucy’s day. It is the shortest and darkest day of the year. This poem may be autobiographical as it may allude to Donne’s wife Anne More as his wife died in the year 1617 and the poem was published in 1627. In these 45 lines, divided in five equal stanzas of nine lines he describes how the departure of his beloved makes him feel like ‘nothing’. He blames death and love for his state of feeling inferior and ‘nothing’. He also makes the future lovers warned for the consequences of love.

Literature Review

According to Frost, in stanza one, the speaker’s life has no light, no moisture and no life. (Frost 153,154)Guibbory thinks that the imageries of setting sun, world’s sap sinking, shrinking of life suggest that the departure of his beloved has caused death to the world. (Guibbory 217-218). Sabine thinks, in line 8 and 9; the internal rhyme between the word ‘laugh’ is associated with happiness and ‘epitaph’ which is associated with death; show speaker’s death of happiness. (Sabine 246).

According to Unger, the second stanza starts with speaker’s warning for the future lovers. He directly brings ‘you’ in the poet and which seems a little belittling. Hollingsworth says that Donne has described two contradictory effects of love. It can leave with you nothing and change someone with nothingness upon the death of his/her beloved. (Hollingsworth 90). Martin thinks that in line 15, the connection of quintessence signals the spiritual extraction of the speaker’s life. (Dr. Louis Martin)According to Guibbory, love has made the speaker incapable of dying in stanza two. (Guibbory 218)In stanza three, Guiborry thinks all the good things in his life are absent as his lover is no more. (Guibbory p. 217)

In line 27, According to Emmy Rebert, the hard pronunciation of ‘c’ in the already harsh word ‘carcasses’ makes it harsher. (Emmy Rebert)According to Guiborry, in stanza 4, the absence of light in the speaker may hint that he is isolated from god. Which indicates he is also suffering spiritually. (Guibbory 219)According to Guiborry, in stanza 5, the ‘sun’ is actually a pun, which refers to Jesus Christ. The speaker may think his love to be as holy as the Christ. (Guibbory 219) According to Sabine, three days of festival may refer to the celebration of three days wedding celebrations to have sex. The speaker may have used this pun to show his hope that maybe they can be re united in the afterlife. (Sabine 248)

Scholar Louthan thinks that Donne wrote this poem after the marriage of Lucy Harington. Louthan cannot support his own statement as Donne and Lucy met twelve years after the poem was written. (Dipasquale 185).

Scholar Rodney Edgecombe believes the subject of Donne’s poem is Anne More (Rodney 142-144) scholar Kate Frost believes Donne’s poem is written upon Anne’s death, because of Donne’s biographical linkages to St. Lucy’s Day the day he did such things as preach memorial sermons. (Frost 150). Research ProblemSeveral researches have been made to analyze the poem. But none of them focused on how love transformed the speaker in the poem. This paper aims to find it.

Objectives of the Study

General Objective

To understand how love transformed the speaker.

Specific Objectives

To know why the speaker uses ‘St Lucy’ as a metaphor to describe his beloved

To understand the relationship between the speaker and the lover.

Research Questions1. How does love change the speaker?

How is the speaker’s relationship with his beloved?


This paper is done by using sources like blogs, books, websites etc. Data have been collected by secondary sources and qualitative method has been used here.

Scope of Study

The speaker’s transformation over the stanzas in this poem will be understood by the analysis of the poem and close reading. Choosing ‘St Lucy’ as A MetaphorSt Lucy was a Christian martyr who died during the Diocletian Persecution. She is respected as a saint by the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Orthodox Churches. St Lucy’s day refers to December 13th, the shortest day of the year. It is traditionally called winter solstice, when it is thought that the sun has died and until it takes rebirth, the nights are longer than the days. The poem’s setting is on St Lucy’s day which is the longest night of the year. It metaphorically shows the poet’s attitude of the fact that his beloved is dead. The longest night symbolizes the pain the speaker got for the departure of his beloved. Saint Lucy is thought to be Anne more, his own saint who brought peace in his mind. And this is why ‘St Lucy’ has been used as a metaphor in this poem to portray his beloved and ‘St Lucy’s day’ refers to the day when his beloved died.

Analysis of ‘A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day’

In stanza one, the speaker feels completely isolated and sees ‘death’ everywhere. All the nine lines only lead to death. The theme of death starts from the first line of the stanza. ‘Tis the year’s midnight’ suggests the death of the year as well as the death of the day as midnight ends a day and starts another one. The day is 13th of December, a month which is related to death of animals and plants as it is winter then. This also relates the poem with death. St Lucy’s day, which lasts for only seven hours, metaphorically states that he and his lover had a relationship for short period of time. In line 3, ‘The sun is spent’ gives the imagery of setting sun which again emphasizes on death. This imagery also indicates the state of mind of the poet – gloomy and melancholic. The speaker feels so low that he thinks his whole world has sunk. He shows the positive effect of his lover by using the metaphor ‘general balm’ which is a natural healing ointment. But the word ‘balm’ can also be a pun for ‘embalming the dead’, which again indicates to death. To the speaker, the earth is extremely thirsty, which is indicating to it’s greed and that is why the earth has drunk his beloved causing the death of her. In line 7, ‘as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk,’ how a man shrinks in bed at the time of death. He says that he is an epitaph which shows his anguish as he is an ‘epitaph’ which is created by a living person.

In Stanza two the writer involves the readers and wants the future lovers to follow him. The speaker addresses the readers as ‘you’. The word ‘next’ indicates to new generation and the season ‘spring’ indicates to liveliness, youth and cheerfulness. The speaker says that the next spring will be enjoyed by the next generation who will be lively and cheerful then but not the speaker; which again shows his anguish. He says that because of love’s ‘new alchemy’ all these has happened. Alchemy means transforming metal into gold. But the word ‘new’ changes its connotation and makes it negative and harmful. In line 14, ‘For his art did express’. it means love’s art brings out something from every dead thing which has transformed the speaker. But then he said that love has made him worse than nothing as it has squeezed out ‘quintessence’ from his ‘nothingness’ that he was talking in stanza 1. Quintessence, which is also known as ether, is related to alchemy. Thus he proves that how the alchemy was harmful for him. In line 17 and 18 ‘He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot/Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not. He clarifies how it has ruined him by giving him the chance of ‘re-begot’. Line 18, is also a paradox as his new life is full of ‘absence’, ‘darkness’ and ‘death’ which means basically, he does not exist.

Stanza three begins with anguish. The speaker thinks, all the good things in his life are absent as his lover is no more. Line 20, ‘Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;’ shows the nothingness of him as he says that he does not have life, soul, form or spirit. Then he compares himself with a grave which again shows connection to death. Line 22 and 23 ‘Oft a flood/Have we two wept’, show hyperbolic expression of their love. The hyperbole shows that the tears of the lovers can actually flood the whole world. This line is related to line 5, “the world’s whole sap is sunk,” which shows the negative effects of lovers’ partition. Line 24 ‘Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow’ shows another hyperbole. It shows how he felt disconnected from the reality when his lover died. Line 26 and 27 ‘and often absences / Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses. ’ show another hyperbole which shows the power of their love, asserting their souls together. It shows how the lovers are disconnected from their physical world when they are not together (Miller 310). And thus the speaker is saying that now he feels the disconnection permanently. This stanza has the words ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’ which show their togetherness. Even this stanza has a mild tone than the previous one.

Stanza 4, starts with ‘But’ which indicates the turn of the poem. In this stanza the speaker does not address someone specifically but talks about his condition as his lover is dead. He says that it is wrong for death to take way his beloved. Line 29, ‘Of the first nothing the elixir grown;’ shows how his life has become worse than nothingness. Elixir is a preparation to turn something into gold. But in this poem this is prolonging his living dead situation. He questions himself is he truly a man or not. This shows how he is worse than nothing. He says that he would prefer to be a beast. This shows how terrible his present condition is. in line 35 and 36, ‘If I an ordinary nothing were, / as shadow, a light and body must be here’. He says that he neither has light nor a body he is as inferior as a shadow. The absence of light in the speaker may hint that he is isolated from god. Which indicates he is also suffering spiritually. The tone of this stanza is cold and melancholic.

Stanza 5 begins with the permanent setting sun, ‘nor will my sun renew. ’ Metaphorically, this permanent setting of the sun shows speaker’s loss of hope and happiness. the ‘sun’ can be a pun, which refers to Jesus Christ. The speaker may think his love to be as holy as the Christ. He is saying that the readers are looking for a ‘lesser sun’ which means lustful relationship, and he and his beloved had a deeper relationship. Line 42, ‘Since she enjoys her long night’s festival’ refers to his beloved with whom he would like to get back together if he can. And in the next line he says that he is preparing himself to go to her. He ends the poem by saying that it is time for his prayer for his beloved. This shows his eagerness to be with her. Earlier in the poem the speaker warns the future lovers for the negative consequences of love. But in stanza 5, his tone was warm and joyful.

Relationship between the Speaker & His Beloved

The speaker and his beloved’s relationship can be understood through the speaker’s sayings which is platonic and permanent. In line 2, the speaker says, ‘who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;’ clearly shows that their relationship did not last long as his beloved died. Throughout the first stanza it is clear that how deeply they were connected as whatever he says he comes to the fact that his lover is no more and in this world he is all alone. In line 12, ‘For I am every dead thing’ shows the effect of his beloved’s departure and how he was lively before her death. From lines 22t to 27 he recalls his past by saying, ‘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. ’ They show how he felt disconnected from the reality when his lover died and how the lovers are disconnected from their physical world when they are not together. And thus the speaker is saying that now he feels the disconnection permanently. In stanza 5, he asks the readers who only love for lust to enjoy the summer by saying that, ‘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’. These lines suggest that the love between his lover and him was not physical rather it is spiritual. Line 43 & 44, ‘Let me prepare towards her, and let me call /This hour her vigil’ show the speaker’s dependency towards his lover. And as he is taking preparation to meet her in the afterlife it shows the permanent bond between the two.

Speaker’s Transformation by Love

The speaker became in a state of ‘nothingness’ from being a normal person. He and his lover possessed a unique relationship but as it did not last long, it affected the speaker greatly and made him feel like ‘nothingness’ and suicidal.

In stanza one, line 3, the speaker says ‘The sun is spent’ here the sun is a metaphor for his beloved. As it has ‘spent’, his beloved his dead the speaker feels empty inside and he thinks that ‘The world’s whole sap is sunk’. He feels like dying and says, ‘to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk’. The first stanza ends with ‘who am their epitaph. ’ The speaker considers himself as an epitaph of his beloved which states that how miserable he is.

In stanza two he says ‘A quintessence even from nothingness,’ which means love’s alchemy is squeezing him even from his nothingness. He ends the stanza saying, ‘He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot / Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not. ’ here by personifying ‘love’ he is directly accusing him for his current situation. To him, love has ruined him and given him a new life but it is not positive as it is of absence of light and full of darkness and death.

In third stanza he says, ‘I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave / Of all that’s nothing. ’ It indicates that he is a grave but even the grave has nothing in there. It shows his emptiness as well as nothingness.

In the fourth stanza, he says, ‘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,’ He wonders if he is a man or not. it shows how he feels himself as unimportant and worthless. He wants to be beast, animal or plant thinking that they have more to do in this world compared to him. Again this attitude shows his being ‘nothingness’.

In the beginning of stanza 5, he says, ‘But I am none; nor will my sun renew. ’ This shows how he has accepted the fact that he is no one in this world as his beloved is not here. In line 43 he says, ‘Let me prepare towards her,’ this shows how he is becoming suicidal and thinking of leaving this world and be with his beloved permanently.

Throughout all these five stanzas, the readers can see him feeling depressed, deadly, in a state of ‘nothingness’, unwanted, a burden of this world, worthless and disconnected. But all these emotions led him to be suicidal and be with his beloved forever as their love is spiritual. Neither he cares about this world which doesn’t have his beloved nor the world cares of him as he is worthless.


In the poem ‘A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day’ is all about love’s negative alchemy. It is a poem about the transformation of a lover from a happy state to being nothing. These five stanzas are showing that how love is not all the time positive and flowery. They show a total opposite imagery of love which is ruining and destructive. The speaker feels that he is not a part of this world and considers himself as worthless. His life is absent from light and it is full of darkness without his beloved. Previously he was in a happy state and though their love affects the world but now when his beloved is dead, the whole scenario changes. Now the speaker thinks himself to be worthless in this world and he becomes suicidal to be with his beloved as in this world he has nothing and he is nothing.

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