As the holiday season begins, and Christmas preparations gear up in my house, I find myself listening to (and singing in my less-than-harmonious voice) a number of favorite Christmas carols. I wondered what the most popular Christmas carol of all might be. A quick Google search led me to an article based on a Time Magazine study that revealed the following:
“The names Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber have largely vanished into the annals of Christmas tormentors, but their greatest triumph lives on. “Silent Night,” which Mohr wrote the lyrics for (in German) in 1816 and Gruber put to music two years later, is the most recorded Christmas song in the modern era of the holiday’s substantial oeuvre.”
“To determine this fact, TIME crawled the records at the U.S. Copyright Office, which offers digitized registrations going back to 1978, and collected data on every Christmas album recorded since that time. “Silent Night,” it turns out, is not merely the most popular carol; with 733 copyrighted recordings since 1978, it is nearly twice as dominant as “Joy to the World,” a distant second with 391 records to its name.”
Whether your observation of the season is secular or religious, and regardless of your religious affiliation, this week, the challenge is to use the title (that’s right, just the title) of the song “Silent Night” as a springboard for something that may well be quite different from the song. Think about a “silent night” (any silent night) that you’ve experienced. This may be a seasonal or Christmas experience or a “silent night” experience from any time of year.
1. Free write for a while on silence, nighttime, or any specific experience you’ve had at night (mystical, beautiful, frightening, comforting). Some possibilities may include a family time, a particular holiday celebration, a nighttime walk in the woods or on a city street, a time alone, a time when words failed you, or a time when you were in deep reflection.
2. After free writing for a while, take a short break and then go back and read what you wrote. Is there anything there that you might work into a poem? Copy some images and ideas that you think might fit.
3. Consider prose, narrative, and lyric forms.
4. Write your poem with the specific intention of creating a mood or atmosphere. Mood is the major feeling or atmosphere of a piece of poetry, and can be an important device is establishing emotional communication between you and your readers. Remember that your topic is a “silent night.”
5. Don’t be afraid to create an air of mystery. Along that line, don’t tell it all—leave room for your readers to enter your poem. Give your readers something to reflect upon. Don’t close the “door” on your poem—leave it slightly ajar.
1. The images you create will impact the mood of your poem. If you create somber images, the mood of your poem will darken and perhaps become ominous. If you create light, happy images, your poem’s mood will move into a positive, uplifting direction. Know what mood you want to create before writing anything.
2. Remember that setting contributes to mood and atmosphere, and establish a setting for your poem accordingly. (Note that setting is the physical location in any literary work. It provides a background that supports the content.)
3. Use language to your poem’s advantage. That is, choose words and phrases that convey the mood or tone of a “silent night.”
4. Be generous with caesuras (pauses). Allow the unspoken silences of your poem to speak to your readers. You can create pauses with dashes, parentheses, spacing, and line breaks.
5. There should be nothing superfluous in your poem: no extra words, no extra syllables. Avoid explanations of what you’ve written in your poem: trust your images.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening By Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Evening Solace By Charlotte Brontë
The human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed;—
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,
Whose charms were broken if revealed.
And days may pass in gay confusion,
And nights in rosy riot fly,
While, lost in Fame’s or Wealth’s illusion,
The memory of the Past may die.
But there are hours of lonely musing,
Such as in evening silence come,
When, soft as birds their pinions closing,
The heart’s best feelings gather home.
Then in our souls there seems to languish
A tender grief that is not woe;
And thoughts that once wrung groans of anguish
Now cause but some mild tears to flow.
And feelings, once as strong as passions,
Float softly back—a faded dream;
Our own sharp griefs and wild sensations,
The tale of others’ sufferings seem.
Oh! when the heart is freshly bleeding,
How longs it for that time to be,
When, through the mist of years receding,
Its woes but live in reverie!
And it can dwell on moonlight glimmer,
On evening shade and loneliness;
And, while the sky grows dim and dimmer,
Feel no untold and strange distress—
Only a deeper impulse given
By lonely hour and darkened room,
To solemn thoughts that soar to heaven
Seeking a life and world to come.