John Donne’s beautiful A Nocturnall Upon St Lucie’s Day, being the shortest day of the yeare was written when he had recently lost his wife. His monumental, much-loved poem is about loss, emptiness, death and darkness; a withdrawing into the self, a kind of black-and-white despair; the darkest hour of the day, the year and the dark night of the soul.
Why then would Martin Malone and I have the damned cheek to respond to this poem? Because this time last year, we were beginning our own cycle of poems charting the progress of a love affair between (ahem) mature lovers.
Our characters are a forty-something man and woman who come to their relationship with baggage and personal histories – but also with a bright, flaming determination to fill the long dark nights with the strongest force of life. So on St Lucy’s Day, we sat down to write two Nocturnes of our own, drawing strongly on Donne’s great poem to give us the form – but refuting its content with the blazing lust of two lovers who welcome the longest night, and its many hours of darkness.
I can’t speak for Martin, but my own poem was intended as a great affirmation, a forceful reclaiming of the night with a candlelit glint in its eye. It came at the very beginning of our collaboration as poets. In the subsequent year, our collaboration has also become a personal one but in purely poetic terms, we’ve learned a great deal about the value of working with another poet, gaining from their strengths and challenging their established practices. It’s been an immensely valuable project and it continues, with we hope a book-length manuscript by summer 2013.
Here, then are our own Nocturnes - part of our Fireships book-in-progress. We’ve popped them up here as a PDF to er, warm the cockles on your own darkest night. We hope you will enjoy them as a midwinter gift. There is, after all, more than one way to light a flame….