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 th’un-broken song 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 vent, the hearth-stones of a continent. And made forlorn, the households born, of peace on earth good will to men.
Then in despair I bowed by head. “There is no peace on earth” I said. For fate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.
Then peal 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.
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.
I have, above, shown the complete version of Longfellow’s poem. It was later made into a Christmas carol. Two of the poem stanzas , the third and fourth (which are referring to the Civil War), are left out of the carol. What a sad poem. But the outcome is beautiful! This poem came out of tragic events – the Civil War, death and illness.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a poet and a professor of American literature. Maybe you have read his works (Paul Revere’s Ride, Evangeline, Song of Hiawatha, etc.). He was born in 1807 and raised in Portland, Maine.
In 1861, Longfellow and his family were living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His wife passed away when her clothes caught fire in their home and she died. That same year, the Civil War started causing much conflict and human suffering. In 1863, his son, Charley, ran away from home to join Abraham Lincoln’s army. Charley was 17 years old. Charley was a wonderful soldier, but in time he contracted typhoid fever and malaria and was sent home. After he became well enough, he returned to the army; however, he was shot in a battle in New Hope Church, Virginia, and was almost paralyzed. Longfellow learned of his son’s injuries, traveled to bring him back home and nursed him back to health.
Longfellow was in such despair about the war and his family while sitting by his son’s bedside. He grieved for his wife the rest of his life. The Christmas bells started to ring from a nearby steeple. He thought about everything that was going on and all that had happened. Then, hearing the bells, a peace came over him when he remembered that God is not dead and is with us always. He sat down and penned this poem. Read it and you will see his despair. Then the bells came and told him that God is not dead and does not sleep. May we all remember that whatever suffering, loss or unrest comes along, God is still with us any time we need and call upon Him. Take Him with you anywhere you go.
Submitted by Gene Sherwood (Information obtained in “Then Sings My Soul” by Robert J. Morgan)