Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Bells

One of my favorite Christmas songs has always been I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Recently the song became even more meaningful to me when I learned the story behind its words, penned by the great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Longfellow started the 1860’s on top of the world. He was happily married, living with his wife and five children in a lovely home on the Cambridge River in Massachusetts. But in 1861, tragedy struck both the nation and the Longfellow family. The opening shots of the Civil War were fired on April 12th, and shortly after, Longfellow’s wife was fatally burned in an accident on July 10th. While melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops fell on her dress and ignited, wrapping her in flames. Longfellow unsuccessfully attempted to extinguish the flames with a throw rug, and then frantically tried to smother them by throwing his arms around her. Unfortunately his wife died the next morning, and Longfellow was unable to attend her funeral, having suffered severe burns to his face and arms.The first Christmas after his wife’s death, Longfellow wrote in his journal, "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, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had suffered a severe bullet wound to the spine. The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow's journal.

But finally, on Christmas Day of 1864, he wrote the words of the poem, "Christmas Bells:”

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 alongThe 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!"

I love this poem because it is a reminder that no matter what we suffer, no matter how long we languish in trials and tribulations, we always have hope in Christ. He will bring peace to our lives, and someday, peace to the world.

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