Famous Christmas Carols – Story Behind the Carol – “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day”

A song that voices not only the hope of Christmas, but also loneliness and despair,  “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day”, was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day in 1864. Longfellow had been through a season of suffering. He lost his beloved wife, Fanny Appleton Longfellow, April 12th, 1861 in a tragic fire that began while she was attempting to use sealing wax to preserve the clippings from her child’s hair. Some of the wax fell upon her dress igniting it into flames. Her husband tried to extinguish the flames unsuccessfully. The Civil War was ravaging the country when one year later, Henry’s son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, was injured in battle. While the words of the song tell of the despair and darkness of a fallen world and give voice to desperation that is sometimes felt when God seems far away, it also rings with hope even in the midst of suffering.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a Christian man who believed God and who found comfort in the ringing of the bells at Christmas. He realized that although life sometimes brings wars and heartaches; even as the Civil war raged he knew that God was still on the throne and that He came to earth to bring peace. Below are the words he penned:

“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!”



About jlue

I am a grandmother of seven and I like to garden, read, study the Bible, and spend time with family. I am not very politically active, but very interested in who is elected to lead our country.
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