Brevity=Wit: Holiday Edition

December 21st, 2009 by Wordsman

With Christmas coming up soon, I felt that it was time to take a look at a holiday classic.  “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” is a nice, short poem.  Clement Clarke Moore knew what he was doing; the whole thing can be read in only a few minutes, which is much quicker than all those Christmas carols, where it takes half an hour to remember and agree upon the words to all the obscure verses that no one ever sings.  Truly an exemplar of brevity . . . or, at least, it was in 1823, when it was first published.  Let’s see how it holds up to today’s standards:

“‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimn”

Well that explains why everyone thinks the poem is called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”  It’s the only part that anyone can remember.  I mean, geez Louise, Moore really needs to remember what his priorities are.  He called the thing “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” and the jolly guy himself never even makes it down the chimney (the chimney only barely sneaks in itself).  The author sets a nice scene, but is it really fair that the mouse, without even making a sound, earns more mention than the title character?  Looks like this thing is in need of serious work after all.

I don’t see what Moore’s big problem was.  The substance of the poem can be easily summed up within reasonable limits.  Observe:

“On Christmas Eve, I saw Santa and his reindeer on the roof.  He came down the chimney, laughed, went back up, and wished us well as he left.”

There you go.  Everything you need, right there in just two sentences.  St. Nick gets to play his part, as do the reindeer.  Everyone should be happy.

Of course, there are those who complain that the condensed version lacks the true Christmas spirit, that it lacks “whimsy.”  Let it never be said that I am an unreasonable man.  In response to this objection, I have prepared a second version that both stays within appropriate character limits and maintains the rhythm and rhyme that are what some people believe gives the poem its heart:

“Xmas Eve, quiet, I got up quick
Saw on the roof: ol’ jolly St. Nick
Gave gifts to us, then he took to flight
‘Merry Xmas to all, and also good’”

(NOTE: Sources suggest that St. Nicholas intended to include one additional final word in his parting phrase, but, most regrettably, his sleigh had already passed beyond the narrator’s range of hearing.)

Posted in Brevity=Wit | No Comments »

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.