The Gettysburg Story

Merry Christmas + Happy Holidays from The Gettysburg Story



By Jake Boritt

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is a Christmas carol based on the 1863 poem "Christmas Bells" by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.The song tells of the narrator's despair, upon hearing Christmas bells, that "hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men". The carol concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among men.

During the American Civil War, Longfellow's oldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, joined the Union cause as a soldier without his father's blessing. Longfellow was informed by a letter dated March 14, 1863, after Charles had left. "I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer", he wrote. "I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good".[2] Charles soon got an appointment as a lieutenant but, in November, he was severely wounded[3] in the Battle of New Hope Church (in Virginia), during the Mine Run Campaign. References to the civil war are prevalent in some of the verses that are not commonly sung.

He first wrote the poem on Christmas Day in 1863.[4] "Christmas Bells" was first published in February 1865, in Our Young Folks, a juvenile magazine published by Ticknor and Fields.[5] Two years before writing this poem, his personal peace was shaken when his second wife of 18 years, to whom he was very devoted, was tragically burned in a fire.


The following are the original words of Longfellow's poem:


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."



I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

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