Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | December 11, 2010

Longfellow’s Christmas Poem of 1863

In November of 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made a round-trip to Washington, D.C. to collect his son Charles from the Army hospital. Charles had been injured during the Battle of Chancellorsville and was sent home to recuperate.  Approximately one month after Charles returned home, he was making a slow recovery. While nursing his son, Mr. Longfellow thanked God for his son’s survival and penned the following poem.  Although the poem was written in the midst of the Civil War, it would not be set to music until 1872; its original title was “Christmas Bells”. When it was set to music the title was changed to,  “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day, Their old, familiar carols play, And wild and sweet The world 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 the 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 toward men!”

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