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I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

Written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day, 1864, this poem-become-Christmas-carol has been one of my favorites this year. In 1861, three years before writing this poem, Longfellow’s second wife had died in accidental fire. Then in 1862, Longfellow’s oldest son Charles joined the Union Army to fight in the Civil War, and was wounded in November 1863 at the Battle of Mine Run.

So Longfellow knew what it was like to suffer loss, to experience human emotions and reactions to his current situations, and yet still, somehow, to turn to the truth of God’s power and control over all things, with repeated references to Luke 2:14: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

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.

I 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.

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.”

The poem was set to music in 1872 by English organist John Baptiste Calkin, who used the melody Waltham” that he had written in 1848. (Two of Longfellow’s original stanzas were omitted from the song version, as the content of the two stanzas were specific to the Civil War.)

Here is one of my favorite recordings of the song, by the inimitable David Phelps.

Posted on 2020-12-25   #Christmas     #David Phelps     #Grief     #Henry Wadsworth Longfellow     #Lyrics     #Music  

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