My Dear Americans,
Now that the month of Christmas has got well under way (after spending the last couple of weeks rudely trying to elbow it’s way into becoming the six-weeks-of-Christmas-and-then-some and we all gave a great sigh of thanks for Thanksgiving Day for standing up to the nasty great bully) it must surely be time for some seasonal poetry [Clears throat]:
Twas the night before Christmas, and all through... and all th!... and all !!... and...
[Agonised pause and restart] Twas the night before Christmas, and...
Aargh!! It burns!! I can't continue it's just too, too horrible [Sob].
But now I shall stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage (though I draw the line at imitating the action of the tiger) and I shall give you the Falling off a Cliff Notes for the thing.
And before you get all taken a-back at my impiety towards what you probably still think of as a semi-sacred text, you should take into account that we are talking here of a poem that almost single-handedly proves H. L. Menken’s little bit of gnomishness about no one ever going broke underestimating the taste or intelligence of the American Public.
Apart from its qualities as verse (which of course it has a sad tendency to completely lack) it is the message of this medium that revolts and distresses.
Consider these lines taken at random (and not even made up by me): “The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, / And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath” or “His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry” or even “He was dress'd all in fur, from his head to his foot” so here we have in quick succession product placement, or whatever it is, encouraging smoking, the obviously excessive drinking of hard liquor (we all know what that does to the capillaries around the nose and cheeks) and, in the face of PETA and all things politically correct, the actual wearing of animal skins and not just wearing them, but wearing them to excess; and then apart from those what we might think of as modern sins, there is plenty to disparage from a more traditional perspective---there’s gluttony with his “Round belly / That shook when he laugh'd, like a bowl full of jelly” [euuuuw!]; there’s the parents sloth with their “long winter's nap”, and one tries hard not to even begin to imagine what sort of lustful things Mama and the narrator were up to, according to their description in the poem they are apparently attired in nothing but, respectively, a “kerchief” and a “cap”, and we won’t even mention all that stuff about exposing stockings.
And then, as one delves deeper into all this iniquity, one starts to wonder just what it was that they “Had just settled our brains” from and why it gave them all those hallucinations of miniature rein-deer and evil little furry men to begin with.
And, to darken an already black-as-sinful story, there is even the suggestion that Clement Clarke Moore, who is the guy who usually gets the credit (if credit is the right word for what its writer should have got) might actually have stolen it from Henry Livingston (though ‘Why in the Hell he would want to’ is the question that springs to my mind).
So with that in mind, and as a little test to see if you’ve been listening, can you figure out which (if any) of the seven deadly sins this vile verse does not encourage?
...Well ... Sorry that was a trick question and you were almost certainly wrong: although not mentioned in the poem, it actually does encourage anger---the trick is that the anger is in the mind of any of the audience with any appreciation for poetry, or indeed any decency at all.
In fact, when it comes down to it, the only good thing that can be said about the whole sorry episode is that at least it wasn’t written by that bloody Longfellow chap1.
Kindest regards, and a very Merry WhateveryourinaccuratecelebrationoftheWinterSolstice-theshortestholidayeveronlylastingafractionofasecondbutdefinitelyworththeeffortwhichyou-candothisyearonWednesdayDecember21at21:48UTChappenstobe to you,
and, of course,
Cheerio for now
If the essay didn't appall you sufficiently, try .
1 My ...um... 'complex' relationship with old Henry is explored in the notes to this essay, and here and, indeed, here.
As I say complex...
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