Christmas Bells Ring On


Something for the weekend.  One of my favorite Christmas carols has always been I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.   It is based on the poem Christmas Bells written  by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day 1863.  Still devastated by the death of his wife in a fire in 1861, he had been rocked by news that his son Charles, serving as a lieutenant in the Union army, had been severely wounded at the battle of New Hope Church in November of 1863.  In a nation rent by civil war, along with his personal woes, one could perhaps understand if Longfellow had been deaf to the joy of Christmas that year.  Instead, he wrote this magnificent poem of faith in the power of Christmas:

Christmas Bells

    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.

The poem was set to music by John Baptiste Calkin in 1872.  Another version was written by Johnny Marks, who, in an only-in -America moment, was a Jewish composer of Christmas songs, including Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, in the 1940s and 1950s.

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