John Donne's "A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day" describes the thoughts and feelings of the poet on the night of the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. His reflections are appropriate to the season, and the poem carries with it a sense of cold and dark and of life dried-up or suspended in hibernation. The sun itself is described as "spent" and as sending forth nothing stronger than "light squibs." The poet makes frequent use of alliteration for emphasis. "The sun is spent" and "the world's whole sap is sunk." This device continues throughout the poem.
The rhyme scheme has a similarly insistent, rhetorical quality. The five stanzas each contain nine lines which rhyme ABBACCCDD. It is the three rhyming words in lines five to seven that create this effect, with "sunk...drunk...shrunk" in the first stanza and "express...nothingness...emptiness" in the second emphasizing the hollowness of life in general and the poet's bereaved, shrunken existence in particular.
The poet is mourning his beloved, whose death has left him bereft of any interest in life, declaring in the final stanza:
But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
All he can do is to give his best wishes to young lovers who still have some hopes for life ahead of them. However, the diction he employs, with references to the "lesser sun" and "new lust," and the symbol of Capricorn, "the Goat," suggest that what they may enjoy in the future is a poor, coarse substitute for the love that he has lost, and the poem ends as it began, in the gloom of "deep midnight."