Longfellow’s “Christmas Bells”

As Christmas approaches let’s take a look at one of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s most famous poems, “Christmas Bells.” The poem was written by Longfellow on Christmas Day in 1863 as our nation was at war with itself during the Civil War. Longfellow struggles to believe there is any good left in the world as, “from each black, accursed mouth, the cannon thundered in the South.”

But ultimately the poet concludes that there is reason to hope as, “pealed the bells more loud and deep,” for, “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!” What more clear evidence can we have that God is not dead nor doth he sleep as we celebrate his Christmas gift to us, a Savior who is Christ, the Lord! “The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men!”

A most blessed Christmas to all my readers!

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old, familiar carols play,

and mild 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 first put to music in 1872 but it was Bing Crosby’s 1956 recording of the poem with the title “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” that made it famous.

More recently, the contemporary Christian music group, Casting Crowns, recorded a very popular version of the poem in 2008.

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