Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Feast of Santa Lucia

Yesterday was the feast of Santa Lucia. Around the mediterranean and in Scandinavia this is widely celebrated. We went to Pietrasanta to watch three friends making the traditional circuit of the town. You are supposed to stay awake all night on the 12th December (good excuse for all night parties) and the following morning just as dawn is breaking the women form a procession wearing crowns of candles on their heads, and they process again as darkness is falling in the evening. The song they sing - 'Santa Lucia' - is neopolitan but there are lots of Scandanavian variants. The candles symbolise the fire that refused to consume Santa Lucia in the Christian calandar, but it has much earlier pagan associations. It used to fall around the winter solstice before the calendar was changed in the 16th century. We don't celebrate Saint Lucy in England now, though John Donne wrote a wonderful poem about the feast, that connects its significance with the death of his wife. 'A Nocturnal upon St Lucy's 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,
Compared 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.

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