Saturday, December 13, 2008

St. Lucy's Day

St. Lucy, whose day it is, is patron saint of the blind, which strikes me as somehow appropriate, given a time of year when, as Tom Wright wrote, "All language about the future… is simply a set of signposts pointing into a fog." (Preface to Surprised by Hope)

Maggie Ross has written, at Voice in the Wilderness, another of those posts which you really should go and read in full. I can't do it justice here, but her opening paragraphs will give a feel of why it seem so important to me, this year of all years:

It has been a difficult Advent at so many levels for so many people, yet the human spirit is indomitable.

Here in the UK after weeks of depression a kind of blitz mentality seems to be emerging. Yes, we're poor; yes, there is nothing but uncertainty; yes, the weather's miserable—cold, abysmally dark, wet with a stinging wind—on this day when we celebrate the return of the light (St Lucy's day used to fall at the solstice until the calendar correction of 1582), but there is an irrepressible mirth in the air.

The crowds are out looking and rejoicing, if not buying, and in the covered market holly and tinsel adorn every nook and cranny. The butchers there are in full holiday fig, with every kind of game hanging in the cold air—red deer, pheasant, geese, turkey, duck—and, today, a wild boar. The weather forecasters are becoming increasingly literary and it won't be long until one of them uses "light squibs" in his or her forecast (see below).

Today I came into the library as usual on opening, and as I sat down at my desk under the coffered and brightly painted ceiling of Duke Humfrey's, a brass choir started playing carols out in the Broad. As I write, at this very moment, the skies have opened and the rain has changed from a light drizzle to a torrent, yet the brass choir plays on undeterred, surely a metaphor for our times.

She ends with John Donne's wonderful poem, "A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day" – it opens:

'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.

She was right – it is the poem for this year, somehow… But Tom Wright went on to write, later in the same preface I quoted above, "And – supposing someone came forwards out of the fog to meet us?"

All we can do is wait, and pray, in the fallow time, the between time, when the earth rests on the pivot of the year; of all the years.

1 comment:

  1. This told me things I didn't know about St. Lucy's day (half Swede that I am), and the Donne poem was new to me. Thanks.