‘’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house / Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse’: as opening lines go, they must be up there in the top five most famous opening lines from an American poem (something from Emily Dickinson would also have to be in there). ‘A Visit from St Nicholas’, to give the poem its proper title, is perhaps the most famous Christmas poem ever written, too, but the poem’s origins and attribution to a man named Clement Clarke Moore are not as straightforward as they may first appear…
A Visit from St Nicholas
’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter. Read the rest of this entry
What are the origins of this nursery rhyme?
‘Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross’ is a famous nursery rhyme, and has been popular with children for several centuries. The nineteenth-century Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, used to sing ‘Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross’ to his children every day. But which ‘Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross’ are we talking about? For there’s more than one. The origins and history of this nursery rhyme require a bit of unearthing and analysis.
First, here’s the most familiar version of the rhyme:
Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes.
But this isn’t the only version of ‘Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross’. There’s also this one: Read the rest of this entry
‘September 1, 1939’ is one of W. H. Auden’s most famous poems, although Auden (1907-73) later disowned the poem and banned it from appearing in collected editions of his work. As the poem’s title indicates, ‘September 1, 1939’ was written in early September 1939 – and although Auden didn’t actually write it in a New York bar, he was living in New York at this time (having moved there from England only months earlier). September 1, 1939 was the day on which Nazi Germany invaded Poland, causing the outbreak of the Second World War. Because the poem has resonated with so many readers (in both Auden’s own century and ours), and yet Auden himself came to detest it so strongly, ‘September 1, 1939’ requires some analysis. Read the rest of this entry