Amongst those of us like me who aren’t very well educated in literature Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is perhaps best known for his short poem;
There was a little girl,Who had a little curl,Right in the middle of her forehead.When she was good,She was very good indeed,But when she was bad she was horrid.
But he also wrote the Christmas carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. I came across the story behind this carol a few years ago. I don’t remember the source, but this link recounts it.
Henry Longfellow was acquainted with sorrow. His wife had died tragically in a fire, and then his son was badly wounded in the American civil war. For years he was unable to feel any joy at Christmas time, and it was during one of these Christmases during the war that he penned a poem entitled Christmas Bells, which was later put to tune and renamed I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.
The verses that remind us of the civil war are removed from our carol today, but for me they give greater meaning to the poem. How often do our own tragedies “drown the sounds” of peace in our lives? At times we all have our personal earthquakes that “rend” our lives and make us feel “forlorn”. But whether it be war, or personal tragedy, or anything else that gives us sorrow or withdraws peace from our lives, Christmas reminds us that the baby whose birth we celebrate at this time of year was the Prince of Peace. And because of Him, we all will one day have peace. This the meaning behind the bells we hear at Christmas time.
“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 mouthThe cannon thundered in the South,And with the soundThe carols drownedOf peace on earth, good-will to menIt was as if an earthquake rentThe hearth-stones of a continent,And made forlornThe households bornOf peace on earth, good-will to menAnd in despair I bowed my head;“There is no peace on earth,” I said;“For hate is strong,And mocks the songOf 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!”