Synopsis of Nocturnall

The shortest day

Winter Solstice, photo by Brian Robert Marshall, available through Creative CommonsSt. Lucy's Day is ‘the shortest day', that is, 21 December, the Winter solstice. The name ‘Lucy' comes from the Latin word ‘lucis' from ‘lux' meaning ‘light'. The medieval church allocated the day with the least light to someone whose name meant ‘light'.

Donne makes use of such concepts in his imagery.

Night music

A ‘nocturnal', or ‘nocturne', is more usually a musical term, denoting a piece of music set for playing at night, perhaps something soothing and quiet to induce sleep. Donne uses the term quite differently, as a poem of mourning for someone dear to him, whose death has devastated him.

Mourning the death of his wife

In A Nocturnall, Donne is probably mourning the death of his wife, who died, aged 31, in childbirth. If this is so, then it forms a companion piece to Henry King's The Exequy, which also mourns the death of a young and beloved wife. Other people have suggested that, like Twicknam Garden, it was written for the Countess of Bedford. Certainly, that poem is the closest to this one among Donne's other poems.

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