Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day

In December of 1863, already mourning the death of his wife in a fire earlier that year, the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow learned that his son--Charles Appleton Longfellow (who had joined the Union Army to fight in the Civil War against his father's wishes)--had been seriously injured in a battle in Virginia the month before.  Overcome with the grief of perhaps losing not just his spouse but also his eldest son in the same year, Longfellow sat down 150-years ago today and penned what may be the greatest American Christmas carol: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.......

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."

Five years ago, the band Casting Crowns recorded an arrangement of Wadsworth lyrics that I think best capture the spirit and the grace of song.  Consider it my Christmas gift to you....

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