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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

This is one of my favorite carols. I first heard it as an adult, during a difficult period of my life, and it stuck with me. Hope.

The poem was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day, 1864, a few months before General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote many lyric poems including Paul Revere's Ride, The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline. He was born in Maine, attended Bowdoin College (that of a favorite Civil War hero of mine, Joshua Chamberlain), and in 1854 moved to Cambridge Massachusetts.

Longfellow and his wife, Fanny, had six children. In 1861 while Fanny was preserving locks of her children's hair, her dress caught fire and she died of burns the next day. Longfellow, while trying to save her, was also burned. He mourned her death until the day he died.

I liked this video of the carol, featuring the music of MercyMe. It juxtaposes despair and hope, our only hope, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas, dear readers.

Christmas Bells
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The fourth and fifth stanzas, referring specifically to the Civil War, are usually omitted.

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!

(stanza usually omitted)

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!

(stanza usually omitted)

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!"


Anonymous said...

Great song. Very moving.


Rita Gerlach said...

It is a beautiful song. I didn't know about the tragic loss of his wife. How sad.

Travis said...

That era of our history is so dense and complicated. I, too, am a fan of Chamberlain. He was a man of principle and faith. I have heroes on both sides of the conflict.

I've never seen those omitted lines, and I can appreciate the depths of sorrow he experienced, and I can rejoice that he found hope in Christ.

Amy Deardon said...

Travis -- I agree about Civil War Heroes -- I'm an equal opportunity admirer. I also had ancestors on both sides of the conflict. Very complex war, much more than the simplistic *free the slaves*

Travis said...

How right you are. Slavery was nothing more than a catalyst--it was a drum to beat. In the unprovable words by General Longstreet, CSA, "We should have freed the slaves and then fired on Ft. Sumpter."

What a fragmented and disjointed slice of history, and one of my favorite topics of discussion. I had many family members who waged war and I appreciate all of their various view points.

Brenda Susan said...

Amy, Thank you for story behind the carol. That adds s o much to it's meaning for me! Isn't it interesting how so many beautiful creative works were inspired by horrible circumstances?
Happy Christmas to you & yours!