A Poem for Christmas Day – Christmas Bells

Many of us in the US grew up with some exposure to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – his poems “Song of Hiawatha” and “The Village Blacksmith” were taught in elementary school.  Our exposure to his poetry was so consistent that I automatically consider Longfellow “my” poet.

Gold bells with red bowsWhich is why (forgive the bad grammar) I am surprised that I didn’t know that the lyrics to the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” are actually the word of Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells.”  As explained on the New England Historical Society’s web site, Longfellow had recently lost his wife in a fire, and the poet’s son Charley, a Union soldier, had been wounded in the Civil War. I’ve always been struck by the honesty and emotion in this carol; the sentiment is profoundly relevant today.

Merry Christmas, everyone; here is the poem, which you can also read on Public Domain Poetry:

Christmas Bells

    By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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!”


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