I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day : the story behind the song

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, an artist of literary genius, wrote many influential masterpieces. Whether in short story, book, or poetry, Longfellow captivated his readers with his amazing knack for story-telling, but one day this great artist was struck by a tragedy that would change his life forever. July 9, 1861, Longfellow was sleeping at his house when He was awakened by screaming in the next room. His wife, who was fixing their daughters hair, had somehow caught her dress on fire and was engulfed in fire. He rushed to her aid trying desperately to put out the fire. The fire killed his wife and left his face burned and scarred. His injuries were so bad that he could not even attend his wife’s funeral. He resorted to himself alone and in despair. His family was left in silence as Longfellow left the rest of the world to revolve on its own. He wanted no part of this cruel world. Longfellow needed a peace that only One could bring. On Christmas day in 1863, he sat down and desperately tried to reflect on the joys of the season.

  1. 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.

 

  1. I thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along th’unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

 

The third stanza was influenced by the Civil war which was also going on at the time. His   mind was in turmoil over the state of his country. Gettysburg had past not a year earlier. The darkness of the day loomed over him, but he continued writing.

 

  1. 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.”

 

  1. 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. 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!

 

Longfellow had finally found the peace that he needed when he turned to the God who was in control of all the world and its problems. Though the world will never understand how a Christian can go through trials, we as Christians realize that God is in control. No matter what trials we face, we can, through God, always have peace on earth.

 

Caleb Young

Clays Mill Road Baptist Church