Back around Christmas in 2010, I put up these two posts about a story that intrigued me when I heard it. I have since found out that Mr. Longfellow had some interesting beliefs (Have the revisionists taken him apart, too?) . However, the words of this song are so inspirational that I felt led to share the story once more.
When Brother Dick led the congregation in singing last week, he would never know how his selection of this song would bless me this year.
It is not one of the more popular Christmas Songs, but as I sang the song I did something I don’t always do I’m sorry to say.
I took note of the words.
This song, indeed, fits the times in which we live.
I looked at the bottom of the page and saw that the words had been written by the famous American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
I went home and did some research.
I discovered that hymn books remove two of the verses that were originally written by the famous poet.
The verses are removed because they have references to the American Civil War.
Mr. Longfellow wrote the poem on Christmas Day in 1864, when the war had affected nearly everyone in the country.
Unfortunately, the great poet was no exception.
Three months after the war had begun, in July of 1861, tragedy struck the Longfellow family.
Francis Longfellow had just trimmed some of seven-year-old Edith’s hair. Mrs. Longfellow then decided to preserve some of the clippings in sealing wax. While melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops of the super heated wax fell on Fanny’s dress. The hot wax ignited the dress, swallowing the beloved wife and mother in flames.
Fanny ran to Henry in the next room. Henry grabbed a small throw rug and wrapped it around his wife, attempting to smother the flames. Unsuccessful, he finally wrapped his arms around his wife in a last attempt to stop the fire.
Henry’s attempt not only burned his face, hands, and arms severely; the effort to save his wife had failed.
Fanny Longfellow died the next morning.
Because of his injuries and his unbearable grief, Henry was unable to attend his wife’s funeral.
Two years later, Charles, Henry’s oldest son, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church. This happened the month before Christmas in 1863.
It is no surprise there is no entry in Mr. Longfellow’s journal for the Christmas of 1863.
Still grieving over the events of the past few years, Henry put his famous pen to paper on Christmas Day in 1864.
This poem is the result.
Jean Baptiste Calkin added the music in 1872.
Mr. Longfellow heard his words in music for a decade, until his death in 1882.
The words have inspired many, as they have me in 2010.
May God give you a peace that passes all understanding, like He did to Mr. Longfellow, throughout this Christmas season.
(Composed on Christmas Day, 1864)
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 rolled along th’ unbroken song
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
‘Til, 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!
“I Heard the Bells” with commentary by Pastor Bill Mitchell
“I Heard the Bells” by Rod Kim (Operation Christmas Child)
The story behind “I Heard the Bells”
Johnny Cash sings “I Heard the Bells”
This is Sarah McLachlan’s version: