Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day . . .

One of my favorite Christmas carols, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, did not begin as a Christmas carol, but rather as a song or poem born out of the hurting heart of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882, seen in this 1878 picture). According to the Maine Historical Society web site (who graciously has allowed me to use this picture), in 1861 Longfellow's wife, Fanny, was melting sealing wax when she set her clothes on fire and was enveloped in flames. Longfellow tried to put the fire out, but failed and she died the next day. While trying to put the fire out he burned his face and hands, and he grew the famous beard he is well known for to hide his facial scars.

I quote their web site here: A month after Fanny's death, on August 18th, 1861, Longfellow gave voice to his despair in a letter to his late wife's sister, Mary Appleton Mackintosh. He wrote, "How I am alive after what my eyes have seen, I know not. I am at least patient, if not resigned; and thank God hourly—as I have from the beginning—for the beautiful life we led together, and that I loved her more and more to the end."

The same year that Fanny died the Civil War began and in 1863 Longfellow's son, Charley, ran off to join it against his father's wishes. The United States was plunged in to a bloody war on its own soil, one that pitted brother against brother and family against family. In July of 1863, in the battle of Gettysburg alone, close to 50,000 American's died in three days. In the war Charley was also severely wounded (he would survive), and Longfellow's pain of heart for both personal and national loss must have been close to overwhelming.

Depending on which source you read, it was on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day, of 1863 that Longfellow penned the now famous words which would, some years later, be put to music by others and become the Christmas carol we now know so well. The stark honesty and questions, the doubt and fear, and the overcoming faith of this song cause something deep to rise in me. As you read it, follow its progression, and lay within the words whatever it is around you that causes you to doubt or fear or feel lost or overwhelmed. Then, remember, that we walk by faith and not by sight, and rise up in the soaring conviction of the fourth stanza—that though around us it seems hope may be lost, God is not dead, nor does He sleep, the wrong shall fail and right prevail! God is good. All the time. And He loves us so much He sent His Son to die for us, that we might live again in relationship with Him. We walk by faith, and not by sight, and we stand convinced of that which is not yet seen, but promised. Christian, He will not leave you or forsake you, and greater is He who is in you than he who paces about this world.

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.

2. I 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.

3. 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.'

4. 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.'

5. 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.

1 comment:

  1. Psalm 37:7,9 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes . . . For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.


Thanks for your comments, I look forward to and value your sharing. Due to a large number of SPAM comments, you will need to enter a word verification before your comment will be sent to me for moderation. Your comment will be visible after I publish it. Erick

P.S. If you want to have follow up comments to yours sent to your email address, click on the "Subscribe by email" link below. You will need to do this for each post you want to follow comments on.


Related Posts with Thumbnails