Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Notes for July 15th, 2009


This Day In Writing History

On July 15th, 1779, the famous poet Clement Moore was born in New York City. His father, Benjamin Moore, was a bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and also served as the president of Columbia College.

Clement Moore later graduated from Columbia College, earning his Bachelor's and Master's degrees there. In 1821, he was made a professor of biblical studies at the General Theological Seminary in New York City - a position he would hold for almost 30 years. For 10 years, he served as a board member of the New York Institute for the Blind, now known as the New York Institute for Special Education. He was also a prominent abolitionist.

Moore's writing career was modest. He only published two books during his lifetime. One of them was a non-fiction work - a Hebrew and English lexicon published in 1809. The other was a poetry collection, published in 1844. One of Moore's poems would become a classic - a cherished holiday classic that continues to be read every year during the Christmas season. Its original title was A Visit From St. Nicholas, but it's best known as Twas The Night Before Christmas, which is also the first line of the poem.

Twas The Night Before Christmas was first published anonymously in the Sentinel, a newspaper based in Troy, New York, on December 23rd, 1823. Moore originally took no credit for writing the poem because he wanted to be known for his serious and scholarly works, not for a whimsical Christmas poem.

The poem tells the story of a man awakened by strange noises late one Christmas Eve. While his wife and children sleep, he investigates the noises and witnesses the arrival of St. Nicholas - Santa Claus - who has come to deliver presents, riding a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer. The poem defined the character of Santa Claus as we know him today - his physical description, the names of his reindeer, his tradition of delivering presents on Christmas Eve, and other characteristics.

One thing I always found interesting was Moore's description of Santa Claus as "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf" with a long white beard. This may have come from ancient Egyptian mythology, as the ancient Egyptian god Bes was a Santa-like character. The ancient Egyptians believed that on December 25th, their mother goddess Isis gave birth to Horus, the savior of Egypt. Bes, the Elf King, (depicted as a jolly, fat little elf with a long white beard) was a favorite of Isis, much loved by the goddess. He was the guardian of children and women in childbirth, and every year on December 25th, he would honor the birth of Horus by bringing toys and trinkets to all good children.

Twas The Night Before Christmas continues to be read every year during the Christmas season. The poem has become a cultural icon, influencing music, movies, and television, where it has been both parodied and paid tribute. In 1974, the famous animators Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass, producers of many classic, beloved animated TV Christmas specials, including Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, produced an animated Christmas special loosely based on Clement Moore's classic poem. Featuring the voices of Joel Grey and George Gobel, Twas The Night Before Christmas is still shown on TV at Christmastime and is also available on DVD. You can read the complete text of the poem here.

Clement Moore died in 1863 at the age of 83.


Quote Of The Day

"True poetry is itself a magic spell which is a key to the ineffable." - Aleister Crowley


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a rare 1946 short film retelling of Twas The Night Before Christmas. Enjoy!


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