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I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Published February 24, 2017
Countries: USA
Age Levels: 12 and up

Many adults in America are familiar with the great works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. They have heard the words,

“By the sores of Gitchee Goomy – By the Shining Deep Sea Waters…”

Or “It was the 18th of April in 75, and hardly a man is still alive who remembers that famous day and year of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.”

Or “The Ransom of Red Chief” or The poem “Evangeline”

They know Longfellow as a writer. But, few people associate Longfellow with a well known piece of Christmas music.

Longfellow’s life had been struck with tragedy when his wife’s dress caught on fire in their home in 1861. She died as a result of terrible burns. His life became harder still then his 17 year old son ran away from home to join the Union Army and fight in what we now call the Civil War. His son, Charles, was a brave soldier but fell ill to typhoid fever and malaria and was sent home to recover. To Longfellow’s relief, Charles got over his illness. Then the horrors of war came into Longfellow’s life once again as his son went back to the fighting and was wounded by a bullet on November 27, 1863. Longfellow brought his son home to recover once again.

The guns of war, the loss of his wife and the near loss of his son made Longfellow wonder if God had deserted man. Then on Christmas day, his faith was renewed when the thundering canons quieted, and the church bells could be heard.

I hear the Bells of Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play.

And Wild and Sweet, the words repeat,

Of peace on earth, goodwill 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, goodwill to men.

 

As we have American soldiers, friends and loved ones in harm’s way in other parts of the world, we would do well to remember Longfellow’s next verse…

 

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, goodwill to men.