Monday, February 20, 2012

Twinkle, Twinkle, All the Night

Here's a question whose answer I bet most people don't know. Who wrote, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"? It's not something you think about much, is it? But poems have authors, and while the names of some of them are lost, in this case we know exactly who wrote the poem.

The Taylors of Ongar were a highly talented nineteenth century family. The father, Isaac Taylor, was an engraver and wrote children's books. The eldest son, also called Isaac, was a sort of jack of all trades: he painted and illustrated, invented a new kind of beer tap, and most of all wrote lots of books on subjects like theology (he was among other things an anti-Tractarian), history, education, and philosophy. At one point in his career he narrowly missed getting the chair in logic at Edinburgh when it was given to Sir William Hamilton. Jefferys, his brother, also wrote extensively -- mostly children's books also, I think. They had two sisters, Ann and Jane. They wrote poetry and prose. Ann and Jane, when still quite young, put out a book of poems in 1806 called, Rhymes for the Nursery. It's this book that gave us a poem that was originally called, "The Star," which we know from other sources to have been one of Jane's contributions:

The Star
by Jane Taylor

'Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the trav'ller in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark;
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark
Lights the trav'ller in the dark,
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

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