Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Poem Written With A Broken Heart

We're all familiar with the Christmas song I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day, the words penned by one of America's greatest poets. But do you know the story of how the poem, that became the song, came to be written? 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's wife died in 1861 from severe burns inflicted when her dress caught fire as she lit the household candles. Soon after, his older son, age 17, ran away and joined the Union Army as the Civil War continued. Longfellow was left at home to raise a younger son. Charley was severely wounded and it was feared he would not live. Still heartbroken from his wife's death and now perhaps losing his eldest son, the poet wrote the poem in 1863.Writers often deal with grief by writing. It was much later that the poem was set to music as a song. The fourth and fifth stanzas were eliminated from the song as they speak of the Civil War that was raging at the time the poem was written and it was kept as a Christmas song, not one of war.

Christmas Bells
  by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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."

1 comment:

  1. Often the most stirring and memorable works are created when the creator is broken hearted. This is a perfect example, and thank you for the story behind the song (poem.) Thoroughly enjoyed the history of one of my favorite Christmas songs.