Themes in Nocturnall


A Nocturnall upon St. Lucies day is a very moving poem about separation through personal loss, and the numbness of grief that first comes with it. Strangely, the poet's very lack of feeling suggests a worse agony than actual emotional pain. Death is clearly a foe here, since it is death that severs the lovers' world and annihilates it. However death is not addressed directly, as it is in some of the Holy Sonnets.


It might be more correct to speak of absence than separation, as that is how the poet talks:

Of absence, darknesse, death; things which are not

This is the final paradox: absence appears, philosophically, to be a ‘no-thing', but in experience, it is very much a ‘some-thing', present. It exists as a force in itself.

Investigating Nocturnall
  • List the words and phrases to do with nothingness in the poem and set alongside them those which suggest substantiality
    • What paradoxes does Donne expose in connecting the two sets of words?
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