The Shortest Day: Two Poets, Two Perspectives

It has come.In the Northern Hemisphere, we have passed into the shortest day of our solar year.

John Donne speaks of “death” of a lover, where his love is the sun. He pines for her return in a melancholy waltz of “nothingness” as he waits for her and his awakening.

In contrast Elizabeth Bishop’s The Colder The Air. The poet see’s a “huntress” in these dark cold skies. This is a woman who forms her own destiny and draws her power from nature until she falls pray to time.

She calls
on atmosphere for her result.
(It is this clock that later falls
in wheels and chimes of leaf and cloud.)

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being The Shortest Day

‘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,
Compar’d 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.

John Donne

The Colder the Air

We must admire her perfect aim,
this huntress of the winter air
whose level weapon needs no sight,
if it were not that everywhere
her game is sure, her shot is right.
The least of us could do the same.

The chalky birds or boats stand still,
reducing her conditions of chance;
air’s gallery marks identically
the narrow gallery of her glance.
The target-center in her eye
is equally her aim and will.

Time’s in her pocket, ticking loud
on one stalled second. She’ll consult
not time nor circumstance. She calls
on atmosphere for her result.
(It is this clock that later falls
in wheels and chimes of leaf and cloud.)

Elizabeth Bishop

Copyright 2014 Digestible Ink

Poems from:
http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/a-nocturnal-upon-st-lucy-s-day-being-the-shortes/
http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-colder-the-air/

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