What came first the painting, the title, or the song?
Worm Burning Bright in the Forest in the Night could easily be Ted’s artistic realization of this wonderfully Seussian title. However, here history seems to indicate a cultural confluence of music and the visual arts.
The song "Glow Worm" is an early 20th century German piece that later became an American hit when Johnny Mercer expanded the lyrics for the 1952 recording by the Mills Brothers. The “Glow Worm” lyrics reveal how its central figure lights the path for lovers to follow as they wander to love’s sweet voice. The visual connection to Dr. Seuss’s Worm Burning Bright in the Forest in the Night is accentuated through the original 1905 lyric—The night falls silently on forests dreaming.
Could Dr. Seuss’s artwork connect back to this popular orchestral piece turned hit song?
In addition to music, another likely influence on Worm Burning Bright in the Forest in the Night comes from Huck-Finn-type fisherman, those with hand-strung bamboo poles and steel hooks so often depicted in early 20th century images. Tired of digging for bait, many discovered an easy way to extract worms from the ground by pushing an electrically charged metal rod into the damp soil. In a few minutes worms by the dozens would surface—easy pickings for the morning trek down to the fishing-hole. Both Ted’s grandfather and father were tinkerers who patented five of their inventions between 1893 and 1912. It would be well within their purview to have heard about and concocted a charged rod to bring up bait.
McElligot’s Pool, published in 1947, was dedicated to Ted’s dad “T.R. Geisel of Springfield, Mass., The World’s Greatest Authority on Blackfish, Fiddler Crabs and Deegel Trout.” Deegel Trout had been their private joke since a lackadaisical fishing trip in his childhood proved fruitless and his father bought outsized trout from the local Deegel Family Hatchery to pass off as their catch when they got home.
While we can never know with absolute certainty where Ted’s inspiration came from, his little glow-worm certainly is “burning bright in the forest in the night.”