Sunday, 13 December 2020

Dark days. Celebrating Santa Lucia. And a poem.

It’s still raining. Really I should say that it’s raining again but it feels as though it hasn’t really stopped in weeks! I exaggerate, of course! We have had some very nice bright days in between times. It’s just a bit hard to arrange to meet anyone as meeting has to take place outdoors. So a number of friends and I have more or less agreed to contact each other for a walk if a particular day proves to be very good. After all, few of us are going anywhere much.

But on these wet days it never seems to get properly light. However, today is the feast of Santa Lucia. Which sounds much grander than Saint Lucy’s Day! Like a fair number of apparently Christian festivals it was probably a pagan festival originally, almost coinciding with the winter solstice and involving headdresses with candles giving lots of light in the dark time of the year. 

Lucia herself is said to have been the daughter of a wealthy Roman family in Sicily, a devout Christian devoted to helping the poor. And so she is the patron saint of the poor, another reason for the Sicilians I know to be fond of her. Legend has it that she was helping Christians hiding in the catacombs and put candles in a kind of crown on her head so she could light her way while having her hands free to carry stuff. That sounds plausible. And so she is associated with light. In this age of equality, or maybe even before that, in celebrations of her feast day, while girls representing Lucia wear white and have the candle-lit headdresses, they are often accompanied by “star boys” who represent St Stephen, the first Christian martyr. There you go.

On BBC Radio 3, they have been playing music with a theme of light and selected a poem “full of brightness”, as the presenter put it, to be read to us. So I am stealing their idea. Here it is:- 

London Snow by Robert Bridges

When men were all asleep the snow came flying, 

In large white flakes falling on the city brown, 

Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying, 

      Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town; 

Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing; 

Lazily and incessantly floating down and down: 

      Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing; 

Hiding difference, making unevenness even, 

Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing. 

      All night it fell, and when full inches seven 

It lay in the depth of its uncompacted lightness, 

The clouds blew off from a high and frosty heaven; 

      And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness 

Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare: 

The eye marvelled—marvelled at the dazzling whiteness; 

      The ear hearkened to the stillness of the solemn air; 

No sound of wheel rumbling nor of foot falling, 

And the busy morning cries came thin and spare. 

      Then boys I heard, as they went to school, calling, 

They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze 

Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing; 

      Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees; 

Or peering up from under the white-mossed wonder, 

‘O look at the trees!’ they cried, ‘O look at the trees!’ 

      With lessened load a few carts creak and blunder, 

Following along the white deserted way, 

A country company long dispersed asunder: 

      When now already the sun, in pale display 

Standing by Paul’s high dome, spread forth below 

His sparkling beams, and awoke the stir of the day. 

      For now doors open, and war is waged with the snow; 

And trains of sombre men, past tale of number, 

Tread long brown paths, as toward their toil they go: 

      But even for them awhile no cares encumber 

Their minds diverted; the daily word is unspoken, 

The daily thoughts of labour and sorrow slumber 

At the sight of the beauty that greets them, for the charm they have broken.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

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