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    Yo, Little Town

     O little town of Bethlehem                                                
    How still we see thee lie

    Christmas carol by Phillips Brooks

    prosopopoeia (pro-so-po-PEE-a), the humanizer.

     Figaro’s favorite language sage, Brooks Clark, writes that the sweet little Christmas carol resulted from a bet made by a well-known preacher, Phillips Brooks:

    “During the Christmas season of 1867, Brooks was looking for a special carol for the children of Philadelphia’s Holy Trinity Church to sing in their Christmas program, but he wasn’t satisfied with the choices available.  He bet his organist, Lewis R. Redner, that he could write a better one.  He retired to his study, where he wrote the words to O Little Town of Bethlehem in a single evening.”

    The song talks to a city as if it were a person, employing the personification figure called prosopopoeia. Orators have been talking to inanimate objects or other species for millennia, with only a small percentage institutionalized for schizophrenia. The figure may seem strange today, but Figaro uses it often. For instance, he speaks colorfully to his computer whenever it freezes up.

    Back to the Christmas carol: The organist, Lewis Redner, wrote the melody the night before the concert, when he woke up with the notes miraculously in his head. Brooks’s own inspiration came from Bethlehem itself. Two years before, while traveling to preach the midnight Christmas Eve service in the Church of the Nativity, Brooks stopped on a hillside overlooking the sleepy city while shepherds watched their flocks nearby.

    What self-respecting preacher wouldn’t get a carol out of that?

    Joy to all in the days to come, and let nothing you dismay.

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