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The following passage is taken from an article by a contemporary poet about Clement Clarke Moore, the nineteenth-century writer best known as the author of “A Visit From Saint Nicholas.”
If he wasn’t a myth maker himself, at least Clement Clarke Moore was a great myth refiner. He started with St. Nicholas, giver of
Line presents, whom the Dutch settlers had brought (5) over to New York. Moore’s portrait of the
good saint is as fleshy and real as some Frans Hals painting of a burgher:
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his (10) teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
But with American efficiency, Moore (15) combines the figure of St. Nicholas with that
of Kris Kringle, who (in Norwegian lore) helped the saint by driving a reindeer-drawn sleigh. Moore fires Kris, leaving St. Nick to do his own driving. The result is our own
(20) American Santa Claus. Moore removes St. Nick’s bishop’s miter, decks him out in fur, gives him a ruddy face and a pot belly, hands him a sack of toys and calls him an elf—sug- gesting a pointed cap. Thomas Nast, our most
(25) authoritative Santa Claus delineator, stuck closely to Moore’s description, and ever since, few artists have dared depart from it.
To see how good Moore’s imagination is, you have only to compare his version of St. (30) Nicholas with Washington Irving’s of a few
years earlier. In 1809, in “Knickerbocker’s History of New York,” Irving makes St. Nick a friendly Dutch-American deity “riding jollily among the tree-tops” in (of all things) a
(35) wagon, not only on Christmas but also on any old holiday afternoon. What pulled that silly wagon Irving doesn’t say, or why it didn’t snag itself on a branch and bust both axles.
But Moore in his genius provides St. Nick with reindeer power. And by laying marvelous names on those obedient steeds, he makes
(40) each one an individual. Though ruminants may be poorly designed for flight, Moore doesn’t worry his head about aerodynamics; he just sidesteps the whole problem. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and the rest of the crew sim-
(45) ply whiz up to the rooftop by pure magic. It never occurs to us to question such a feat. We are one with Moore’s protagonist, a man with “wondering eyes.”
Delving into John Hollander’s recent (50) Library of America anthology “American
Poetry: The Nineteenth Century,” I was glad to find “A Visit From St. Nicholas” right there along with works by Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Jones Very. Professional decon-
(55) structionists may sneer, but popular demand has fixed the poem securely in our national heritage. If Mr. Hollander had left it out, it would have been missed. Statistics are scarce, but it seems likely that Moore’s masterwork
(60) has been reprinted, recited and learned by heart more often than any other American poem—and that goes for “The Raven,” “Casey at the Bat,” and Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy.”
To be sure, mere popularity doesn’t make (65) a work of art great. If it did, then “September Morn,” that delicate tribute to skinny-dipping
once reproduced on calendars hung in barber- shops and pool halls galore, would be a better painting than “Nude Descending a Staircase” (70) any day. And yet a poem like Moore’s that has
stuck around for 171 years has to have some- thing going for it.
Well then, what? I submit that the poem’s immortality may be due not only to Moore’s
(75) perfecting a great myth, but also to his skill in music-making. It is a moribund reader who doesn’t feel the spell of its bounding anapests, as hard to ignore as a herd of reindeer on your roof. Poets today tend to shy away from such
(80) obvious rhythms. They shrink too from alliter- ation, which, applied badly, seems bric-a-brac. But Moore lays it on thick, and makes it work like a charm: the “fl” sounds in “Away to the window I flew like a flash,” the hard “c”
(85) sounds in “More rapid than eagles his coursers they came.” As for his rhymes, most clunk along unsurprisingly (like “house” and “mouse”), but a few sound Muse-inspired. If any later versifier ever hits upon another pair
(90) of rhyming words as fresh and precise as these, let him die smug:
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of (95) a thistle.
History doesn’t tell us whether Moore’s daughters, who first received the poem as a Christmas present in 1822, were disappointed at not getting dolls instead. Anyhow, it is a
(100) safe bet that, a hundred years from now, many a more serious and respectable poem will have departed from human memory like the down of a thistle, while Moore’s vision of that won- derful eight-deer sleigh will go thundering on.
(105) “A Visit From St. Nicholas” may be only a sweet confection, yet how well it lasts. On a cold winter night, it can warm you to the quick: a homemade verbal cookie dipped in Ovaltine.
22. In line 76, the author uses the word “mori- bund” to emphasize the reader’s
(B) fear of dying
(C) ignorance of mythology (D) reservations about magic (E) insensitivity to verse
On question 22 I do not understand the sentence: It is a moribund reader who doesn't feel the spell of its bounding anapests, as hard to ignore as a herd of reindeer on your roof.
Please restate the sentence, so I can understand better ( especially the part after the comma in relation to the first part of the sentence).
24. One aspect of the passage that might make it difficult to appreciate is the author’s apparent assumption that readers will
(A) prefer the realistic paintings of Hals to later artworks
(B) have read Hollander’s anthology of American poetry
(C) be acquainted with statistics about the memorization of verse
(D) understand the author’s childhood associa- tions with Saint Nicholas
(E) already be familiar in great detail with Moore’s poem
22. I posted the definitions of moribund and anapest for you. Look them up and the meaning of the sentence will become clear.
23. What is your answer?