Poetry Sunday: Christmas Bells

1863 was a troubled year in our country's history. It was a time when it was not at all certain that the country would continue as constituted. Civil war raged, splitting families and friends as well as the nation.

In the midst of all this, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow suffered his own family tragedies. His wife was tragically burned and in November of that year, his oldest son who had joined the Union Army to fight for the country, was seriously wounded. Longfellow was near despair.

On Christmas Day of that year, he wrote this poem which gives voice to his despair and yet ends on a positive and hopeful note. 

2016 has been a time for despair for many of us and at this point it does not appear that 2017 will be any brighter. Indeed, it seems our darkest days may be ahead.

But let us remember that there have been dark times before but that hope still lives; hope that "the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail." Let us work to make it so.

Christmas Bells 

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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!"


  1. That was a good choice Dorothy. (How do you know so much poetry? That might make an interesting post someday. For me anyway.) I am allowing myself a couple days of short term hope, but I suppose I am mostly angry because now those in favor of justice and good-will and peace must work harder than we had planned. I do believe the bells when I take the long view. It was useful to think about how our citizens must have felt at Christmas of 1863 and then notice that we are still here, one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

  2. The backstory of this poem is indeed inspiring. Great choice. We will have hard days ahead but it is good to remember that we have been through worse - much worse.


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