A Nocturnal Upon Saint Lucy’s Day

Saint Lucy’s Day is the shortest day of the year — or if it isn’t, quite, it was when Donne wrote the poem and that is the idea of the poem. Hence, “the year’s midnight.” That fits for the Tenai trilogy because the veil between the worlds is thinnest at midwinter, on the shortest day of the year, and that’s when Tenai first came through the veil from her world to ours.

I read this poem as about grief at a great loss and the transformation that grief may effect. I hope that there is also a suggestion of recovery, because that would be appropriate to the story, but I have to admit the poem is a bit impenetrable as far as I’m concerned. However, abstracting “As Shadow, a Light” implies recovery, and so does the whole line — As shadow, a light and body must be here — if a reader is familiar with the poem, or looks it up and reads that line.

Also, “The Year’s Midnight” just sounds good to me — I agree with Mary Catelli about that. Also, I guess I do like punctuation in titles — at least some titles. Louise makes a good point about the second and third possible titles matching in form, and I do think that’s a plus as well. So — I think I will go with those titles, and thank you very much for your feedback, everyone!

Now I just (“just”) need to think of a series title . . .

Meanwhile, here’s the complete poem by John Donne if you’d like to read it and see what you think:

‘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.

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9 thoughts on “A Nocturnal Upon Saint Lucy’s Day”

  1. I’m late to the title party, but I’m glad you went with this set of titles – I love this poem, and I think the phrases you chose are nicely intriguing.

    If you’re taking suggestions for the series title, may I recommend the following phrases from the poem that seem to summarize the moods your choices evoke? You could play with these, adding “cycle” or “saga” or other epic descriptives as necessary.

    – “Long Night’s Festival”
    -“Two Chaoses”
    – “The Lesser Sun”

    You could also play with the “nocturnal” idea: “The Tenai Nocturnal” or something similar. It doesn’t necessarily MEAN anything, but it has a neat fantasy-epic sort of vibe.

  2. Amara, you may have solved the dilemma about the series title — my initial reaction to “The Tenai Nocturnal” is very positive. I so hope that on reflection I still feel that way!

  3. Allan Lawrence Shampine

    Interesting. My only concern is that I’ve never seen nocturnal used as a noun. “The Tenai Nocturne”? “Nocturne for Tenai”? That’s starting to get into a music vibe – could go with different movements. “Aubade in Tenai”? Just spitballing here…

  4. I agree, Allan, I think The Tenai Nocturne sounds more natural. I too am only used to seeing that in a music context, so I’ll have to consider — but it does just sound good to me.

  5. Nocturne sounds too short, and too quiet/peaceful to me, from frequent listening to John Fields piano nocturnes and otger such music…

    Would the working title of Death’s Lady work as the series title?
    Combining that with the thread in the titles from midnight through darkness to shadow and light at the end, implies that it is not a lighthearted story but it does work its way towards the light and a positive ending.

  6. I did think of that, Hanneke — it’s a pretty obvious possibility once you’ve read the books, isn’t it? I don’t much care for it, as I don’t care for any title in the Posessive’s Woman structure, but it might turn out to be the most straightforward and therefore best choice.

  7. “Day’s Deep Midnight” is another intriguing phrase, and better echoes “Long Night’s Festival” … and for Book II in a trilogy, things are usually dark.

  8. “Day’s Deep Midnight” IS a good phrase. I’m surprised it didn’t jump out at me until you pointed it out, Pete.

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