Apparently ‘Tis the season to be merry and Jolly Old St. Nicholas will soon be making his much anticipated appearance. So I’d thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect a little and even provide you all with some totally useless but interesting facts about perhaps one of the English speaking world’s most famous poems, “The Night Before Christmas” as my little gift to you.
“The Night Before Christmas” was first published anonymously in 1823 and was titled “A Visit from St. Nicholas. It wasn’t until over a decade later, in 1837 that Clement Clarke Moore was attributed with authorship of the poem. However, the authorship is still an ongoing debate amongst scholars, with some claiming there is evidence to suggest that the poem was written by Major Henry Livingstone Jr. This is an interesting debate, especially when you consider that authorship was attributed to Clement Clarke Moore fourteen years after it was originally published and nine years after the death of Henry Livingstone and it wasn’t until 1844 that Clement Clarke Moore acknowledged authorship by including it in his own book of poems. Also, Wikipedia cites more recent analysis of the poem stating,
In 2016, the matter was further discussed by MacDonald P. Jackson, an emeritus professor of English at the University of Auckland, a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and an expert in authorship attribution using statistical techniques. He evaluated every argument using modern computational stylistics, including one never used before – statistical analysis of phonemes – and found in every test that Livingston was the more likely author.
Nowadays though, most people recognise the poem from it’s opening line, “‘Twas the night before Christmas…” which is where it’s current title is derived from, without giving thought to the author, which is a bit of a shame. However, what the imagery provided by the poem captures people’s imaginations, young and old, evoking the magic of Christmas even to this day.
Also, the names of Santa’s eight tiny reindeer are derived from the poem. Now commonly written as Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen, the names over the years (and in different publications of the poem) have differed slight in spelling. For example, Donner and Blitzen have also been written as Donder and Dunder (derived from “thunder” in German and Dutch) and Blixem and Blixen (derived from “lightning”). Interesting but useless information, right!
Now to move on to something different… In the lead up to Christmas, I have been listening to the Pentatonix Christmas album, “That’s Christmas to me.” The title track of this album is one of my absolute favourites and is an original Pentatonix song, which you can listen to here. I think my love of Pentatonix has rubbed off onto my children, as they can name all five members by only listening to them sing and describe pitch in relation to the vocal range of the members. Anyway, when listening to the words of this song, I was thinking what a great children’s book the lyrics would make, looking at the true meaning of Christmas. The song itself even prompted my children to discuss what Christmas really is. They’ve decided it’s not about presents even though they’re really nice), it’s not even about the food (although I really do like the food, perhaps a little too much according to my waist), they’ve decided it’s about being with the people you love. Maybe that’s just one other person, perhaps it’s a house full of people it doesn’t matter as long as you get to spend your Christmas with someone you care about.
What about those who don’t have someone to spend Christmas with you ask? People like mother-daughter team Cassidy and Linda Strickland of local charity Hawkesbury’s Helping Hands are setting their sights on rectifying that. Their annual “Christmas Day Get Together” provides a, “free lunch on Christmas Day with no strings, no questions and no judgement, for everyone to enjoy !!” (quoted from the HHH website, click herefor more information).
So whether you celebrate Christmas or not, take the opportunity to spend it with your loved ones or perhaps to help those who would normally spend the holiday alone.
And don’t forget to read “The Night Before Christmas”/”A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clare Moore/Henry Livingstone Jr. Whatever the title, whoever the author just remember that the magic that is Christmas is all around, all you need to do is believe.
Many of you may recall these words being spoken by Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory, to Charlie just before Wilder’s character – Willy Wonka showed them the “lickable wallpaper”. However, these words were written down long before Wilder’s character ever spoke them.
When reminded of this quote, I began to wonder about the author, Arthur O’Shaughnessy and about the words of the rest of the poem this quote was taken from.
After a few minutes of googling, I discovered that O’Shaughnessy was quite an interesting man, not only was he a poet, but he was also a herpetologist. Don’t worry if you have no idea what herpetology is, neither did I, I had to look it up. Basically, herpetology is a branch of zoology, concerned with the study of amphibians and reptiles. So not only was this man a published poet, but he was also a scientist!
Now back to the man himself. According to Wikipedia, Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy was born in London on the 14th of March, 1844. At the age of seventeen he received the post of transcriber in the library of the British Museum, later becoming a herpetologist at the zoological department of the museum 2 years later, at the age of nineteen. Even though he had a successful career in herpetology, describing six new species of reptiles from 1874 until his death in 1881 and having 4 new species of lizards named in his honour after his passing, O’Shaughnessy’s true passion was literature.
O’Shaughnessy’s first collection of poetry was published in was published in 1870. He went on to publish 3 other collections of poetry (one published posthumously) and with his wife he published a collection of children’s stories. His most famous collection, “Music and Moonlight”, which contained his most famous poem “Ode”, was published in 1874 (although the poem itself was originally published in 1873).
O’Shaughnessy died aged only 36, from the effects of a “chill” after walking home from a London theatre at night, in the rain. Even though his published career was cut tragically short and his published works are few, O’Shaughnessy is regarded as one of the great “modern poets”, with anthologist Francis Turner Palgravestating that O’Shaughnessy had a unique gift with “a haunting music all his own”.
O’Shaugnessy’s most famous poem, “Ode” has been popularised in many forms including song, cinema and in other writings. Interestingly, O’Shaughnessy was the one responsible for the now common phrase “movers and shakers”, he believed that poets would be the “movers and shakers”.
You can see the phrase in all its glory in the first stanza, as well as the often-quoted first two lines,
We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
Instead of idiotic politicians declaring themselves as “movers and shakers”, let the writers, the dreamers, the poets, the artists and the creators declare,
We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
This week has been a bit of a crazy one. It’s probably because I’m now older and (hopefully) wiser, but the world is a very different place to what I thought it was when I finished high school. Heck, it’s even different to what I thought when I finished university almost ten years ago.
In my final years of high school, I had dreams of becoming an Early Childhood teacher and opening my own preschool one day, something of which I’m glad never eventuated. Instead I ended up becoming a primary school teacher, but even though I do enjoy teaching I am beginning to wonder what if I had taken a different path. What if I had gone down the writing path sooner? Where would I be now?
I know it is rare for writers to be able to make a sustainable living off of their work, but it’s not impossible. It makes me wonder that if I had chosen that path ten years ago, would things be different?
I’m not regretting my past choices, this is not what I am saying. I still enjoy being a teacher, most of the time anyway. I’m just in a ‘what if’ mood and wonder how my life would be different if I had chosen to follow a different path.
On another topic, I’ve had a pretty successful month in writing my first draft of Lonely Hearts and I was able to reach this month’s self-imposed word count goal! Not sure how the next month will go though, because uni semester has now started back. I only have two units left to complete to finish my masters degree! I’m sure I’ll end up using my writing to procrastinate from my assignments though, so perhaps I will end up with another successful month of writing.
Here’s a little something I’ve been working on while I’ve been having little breaks from writing Lonely Hearts.