Great Songs of the Church-I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

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Our feature selection for Christmas week is Longfellow’s I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. This is one of my favorite songs altogether, primarily for verse four.

As a matter of fact, Longfellow has been my favorite poet since I first studied him in high school. As for the history of this song, the poem from which it is derived-Christmas Bells, written in seven stanzas- was written on Christmas Day 1864. In 1872, John Baptiste Calkin rearranged the stanzas and put it to the tune with which we are familiar today. The poem/carol is a compilation of Longfellow’s thoughts and grief as the result of losing his wife (1861), the war injuries of his son, and the chaos and despair brought on by the Civil War. The Civil War aspect can be found in two stanzas that were omitted from the carol. Despite all the troubles in the world, it remains forever true that God is not dead, nor does He sleep. The righteous will prevail. Hallelujah and Amen!

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.
I thought how as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had roll’d along th’ unbroken song
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair, I bow’d 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.”
(lyrics provided by SongLyrics)

Words to the original poem, Christmas Bells

“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!”

This peace will only come when the King of Kings, Prince of Peace, reigns. Merry Christmas and Maranatha! Even so, come Lord Jesus!

(Note: History and words of Christmas Bells found here.)

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