Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Dark Days

Today is the winter solstice, and it always feels like a significant day to me. I remember my grandmother telling me that her father could never stand the shortening days, that he was always relieved to pass the solstice mark. I share that feeling.

To me, there is something intensely (and perhaps mundanely) symbolic about the days getting shorter and shorter, something I don't really notice until daylight savings time ends (or begins? what a wacky system) in October. Or, rather, I suppose, the phenomenon of less daylight only becomes acute after the daylight savings time threashhold.

It does feel, to me, like this long spiral into darkness, as mythic and powerful a thing as I experience on a regular basis--darkness with all of its powerful connotations, its magnetism to fear and anxiety, to whatever lurks around us that cannot be named that makes the heart race. I know the trend will reverse itself, but as the world sinks down into the lowest part of its rotational pattern, the fear is in the pattern itself. That this one time a new pattern might be set? That this one time whatever arises to inhibit darkness will not materialize? It reminds me that as much as we trust in the patterns and routines of our daily lives, something can happen to tip the balance, something unexpected.

John Donne's winter solstice poem is "A nocturnall upon S. Lucies day, Being the shortest day." It is a meditation on darkness & light, absence & substance, chaos & creativity, sexuality, and other things.

My favorite part is the first 2 stanzas (look up the rest if you have interest):

"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 shrunke,
Dead and enterr'd; yet all these seeme 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."

I love the way this poem's form sinks in upon itself, mimetic of the poem's themes (sorry about the underlining--it was the only way I could recreate tabs in this weird blog formatting--ignore them, they just create the indentation, they're not in the original poem). The poem always seems darkly hopeful to me, as Donne puns on absence and nothingness, making analogies between male, well, 'expenditure' and female creativity--how the world is made from its own waste, what it uses and destroys. A nifty paradox.

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