Christmas Bells

henry w. longfellow

Light into Darkness – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

December 25th, 1864 dawned bleak and cold. Not only had the tragedy of civil war gripped the nation, but Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was grieving over the wounds of war and death in his immediate family. His son, Lieutenant Charles Longfellow, had been grievously wounded in the recent battle of New Hope Church– resulting in partial paralysis. He had lost his lovely wife Fanny after she had been burned in a horrible accident three years previous. Christmas cheer was not something to be found in the Longfellow household. His journal entry for the previous Christmas reads, “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

Then, on this Christmas morning, Longfellow heard a clear, ringing note. Cutting through the cold, despair and seemingly hopeless grief rang the clear sound of church bells playing Christmas carols. In an instant, hope came rushing in through the window, warming Longfellow’s heart. Sitting down, he penned this poem that was later put to song, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) 

Click HERE to read the story of this poem on the Washington Times

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