Christmas Bells

Posted by Kendall Harmon

"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!"


--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch Year / Liturgical SeasonsChristmas

2 Comments
Posted December 26, 2007 at 4:41 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. BabyBlue wrote:

Ring them bells, ye heathen
From the city that dreams,
Ring them bells from the sanctuaries
Cross the valleys and streams,
For they’re deep and they’re wide
And the world’s on its side
And time is running backwards
And so is the Bride.

Ring them bells St. Peter
Where the four winds blow,
Ring them bells with an iron hand
So the people will know.
Oh it’s rush hour now
On the wheel and the plow
And the sun is going down
Upon the sacred cow.

Ring them bells Sweet Martha,
For the poor man’s son,
Ring them bells so the world will know
That God is one.
Oh the shepherd is asleep
Where the willows weep
And the mountains are filled
With lost sheep.

Ring them bells for the blind and the deaf,
Ring them bells for all of us who are left,
Ring them bells for the chosen few
Who will judge the many when the game is through.
Ring them bells, for the time that flies,
For the child that cries
When innocence dies.

Ring them bells St. Catherine
From the top of the room,
Ring them from the fortress
For the lilies that bloom.
Oh the lines are long
And the fighting is strong
And they’re breaking down the distance
Between right and wrong.

B. Dylan 1989

Yes, Bob Dylan.

December 26, 5:54 pm | [comment link]
2. libraryjim wrote:

The story behind “I Heard the Bells” from two different web sites:

The carol was originally a poem, “Christmas Bells,” containing seven stanzas. Two stanzas were omitted, which contained references to the American Civil War, thus giving us the carol in its present form.

When Longfellow penned the words to his poem, America was still months away from Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9th 1865; and, his poem reflected the prior years of the war’s despair, while ending with a confident hope of triumphant peace.

As with any composition that touches the heart of the hearer, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” flowed from the experience of Longfellow—involving the tragic death of his wife Fanny and the crippling injury of his son Charles from war wounds.

The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year after the incident, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” Longfellow’s journal entry for December 25th 1862 reads: “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded with a bullet passing under his shoulder blades and taking off one of the spinal processes. The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow’s journal.

Finally, on Christmas Day of 1864, he wrote the words of the poem, “Christmas Bells.” The reelection of Abraham Lincoln or the possible end of the terrible war may have been the occasion for the poem. Lt. Charles Longfellow did not die that Christmas, but lived. So, contrary to popular belief, the occasion of writing that much loved Christmas carol was not due to Charles’ death
******
It was not until sometime after 1872 that the 1863 poem, which was originally titled “Christmas Bells,” was converted into a carol. Some unknown person in some unknown year recognized that Longfellow’s stirring and optimistic interpretation of the bells of Christmas would make a magnificent mate for an 1872 processional which was strongly reminiscent of the ringing of bells. The composer of the appropriate tune, John Baptiste Calkin (1827-1905), was the most famous of a family of accomplished English musicians. At first Calkin’s melody was published with the 1848 American hymn, “Fling Out the Banner! Let It Float” by George Washington Doane (1799-1859). Ironically, “Fling Out” was an old-fashioned militant missionary hymn which contrasted greatly in purpose and spirit from the more permanent partner of Calkin’s music, “I Heard the Bells.”

As a pair, the resonant tones of Calkin’s pensive music, the main component of his reputation, and the minor but excellent poem by Longfellow, comprise a very satisfying carol. On top of its fine artistry, it offers an undeniable moral whose essence resides in the two phrases with with each stanza ends. “Peace on earth, good-will to men” so appropriately covers both halves of the partly Christmas and partly pacific carol. No matter how long this particular song may endure, may its two highly desirable themes harmoniously blend together in an everlasting symbiosis for the benefit of humanity.

December 26, 11:38 pm | [comment link]
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