The year’s midnight

A letter in today’s Guardian, from Ron Clarke of Malvern in Worcestershire, says: Sorry to see no reference to St Lucies Day/winter solstice/shortest day in the Guardian. After all, things can only get brighter for us now.  For a few months, anyway.

Mr Clarke obviously believes that St Lucies Day, the winter solstice and the shortest day are all on the same date.  My understanding is that the winter solstice and the shortest day are both 21 December, but St Lucie’s (or Lucy’s) Day is a week earlier, on 13 December.  Cobstone Hill

I happen to know this because on 21 December I wanted to quote here the poem A Nocturnall upon St Lucies day, Being the shortest day by John Donne.  It evokes a wonderful and chilling picture of winter.

’Tis the year’s 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: …

Julian calendar
The footnote (in my Penguin edition of The Metaphysical Poets, edited by Helen Gardner) says that St Lucy’s day is 13 December, so I realised I had missed it.  It seems that although St Lucy’s day was 13 December in the Julian calendar, when the switch was made to the Gregorian (current) calendar,  the saint’s day did not move with the date of the solstice and it remained on 13 December.

About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
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3 Responses to The year’s midnight

  1. hedgelayer says:

    The change to the Gregorian calendar advanced the date by 11 days which would give us 24th Dec. Too difficult for me. But thanks for reminding me of this wonderful Donne verse. (I have, or had, the same HG edition.) Unfortunately not even “light squibs” these last two days on this side on Dartmoor..

    • Thank you, it is a lovely poem which I first studied for A levels. Kate

      • hedgelayer says:

        Me too. I love the downbeat theme of nothingness and ending. But then he just lets the light in (but not necessarily for you or me ! (carcasses ?)). Yep, wonderful poem.

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