You are using an outdated browser. For a faster, safer browsing experience, upgrade for free today.

I Heard the Bells of Christmas Day

Published December 15, 2007
Countries: USA, USA (Civil War)
Age Levels: 12 and up

Many of you remember your high school days.  For some of you those days are not that far behind you.  It seems that every English teacher had the dream of bringing stories and poems by the great American authors to your ears.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was one of those authors.  He was one of what was called The Fireside Five.  Along with Longfellow were William Cullen Bryans, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

These gentlemen were remembered for their popular poems.  Unfortunately for high school students, the poems were favorites of English teachers who thought every student needed to memorize and recite poetry.

Longfellow is remembered for "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere"

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm." ...


You also probably remember "The Song of Hiawatha"

By the shore of Gitchie Gumee, 
By the shining Big-Sea-Water, 
At the doorway of his wigwam, 
In the pleasant Summer morning, 
Hiawatha stood and waited. 
All the air was full of freshness, 
All the earth was bright and joyous, 
And before him through the sunshine, 
Westward toward the neighboring forest 
Passed in golden swarms the Ahmo, 
Passed the bees, the honey-makers, 
Burning, singing in the sunshine... 


Some of you had to read "Evangeline" and study for a test.

But most of you are not familiar with one of Longfellow's works, "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day"

We were a nation divided.  We had more to worry about than reading and memorizing poetry. 

The times became dark for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

His wife had a freak accident in 1961 that took her from him.  Her dress caught on fire in their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The first shots of the Civil War were heard shortly after that same year.  The nation was being torn apart.  Two years later Longfellow?s teenage son, Charley, age 17, ran away and joined the Union Army.

Death and worry - two main words in Longfellow's life.  His son saw action at Chancellorville and proved to be a brave and popular soldier.  Then he fell, not to an enemy bullet but to the weapon that killed more soldiers than the weapons of war.  He fell to typhoid fever and malaria - both known killers.  Charley was sent home to recover and actually missed one of the biggest battles of the war at Gettysburg.  I imagine that Longfellow thought that God had given back his son.

But just as fast Longfellow questioned his faith again as Charles recovered and went back to join the army and was shot.  This time Longfellow went to where his son lay in a hospital bed to bring him home to recover. 

On Christmas day he gave vent to his feelings and wrote down words that can only be understood by those who have heard the sounds of war. 

I hear the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace and 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 and 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

Of peace and earth, good will to men.


For soldiers everywhere this Christmas - for every troubled soul - for everyone who wonders if the world can be a better place and wonders where God's majesty is - I offer Longfellow's final verse. 

Till ringing, singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day

A voice, a chime, chant sublime

Of Peace on earth, good will to men 


Dr. Mike Lockett is an educator, storyteller and children's author from Normal, IL. Dr. Lockett has given more than 4000 programs across the USA and as far away as eastern Asia. Contact Mike by writing to in order to book him for a storytelling program or young authors program or to inquire about purchasing his books and CDs.