orA Visit from Inclement Verse
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) I am ummercifully driven to the dominant question of the season: What is it about Christmas that brings out the crass, the trite and possibly the down-right evil in people?
Consider this :
’Twas the month before Christmas: through the whole universe,Now before you get all taken a-back at my impiety towards what you probably still think of as a sacred text, you should take into account that the unmerciful driving I mentioned above was done by a crass, trite and possibly down-right evil advertisement that featured the damn thing, and you should remember too that we are here talking 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.
Stupid buggers were reciting this horrible verse.
Its rhymes were pathetic; its scansion was worse.1
And I couldn’t help thinking it should go in reverse
As Dan Chaucer would say, up the re-citers erse!
Apart from it’s qualities as a 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 the audience.
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 bloody Longfellow2.
Cheerio for now
from Richard Howland-Bolton.
1 Dan's pronunciation disyllabic, (which was something like ‘ersë’)
Means that line should end (ungramatically) ‘worser’
2 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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