Monday, December 17, 2012

Tolling Bells


When Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his poem, “Christmas Bells,” his son, Charles, had been wounded in battle fighting the Civil War. Sure that Charles would die of his injuries, Longfellow penned the words that would eventually become the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Fortunately for Longfellow, his son survived.

The composer, Jean Baptiste Calkin, took out the lines that referred to the Civil War when adapting Longfellow’s work to music, therefore removing the poignancy of the poet’s words and the heart of the meaning.

After the slaughter of innocents on Friday in Newtown, Connecticut, this verse rings particularly true.

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!”

But Longfellow, like all survivors of tragedies, ends with a message of hope, which is what we all need after yet another massacre pushes the universe out of balance, as our country mourns those sweet children and the teachers who died protecting them.

Here is “Christmas Bells” in its entirety. May the residents of Newtown someday find solace. Rest in peace, little ones.

Christmas Bells
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Christmas Day, 1863


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!”





4 comments:

Kelly Hashway said...

So sad. :(

Beverly Diehl said...

I too must believe that in the end, right will prevail. SENSE will prevail.

And people standing together, saying Enough is Enough.

Leah Griffith said...

Karen, this poem gave me goose flesh. How poignant and strong. Thank you for sharing. Now I in turn shall share it.
Merry Christmas Karen. Big hugs;)

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

You're right, Kelly. it's so sad.

Bev, absolutely. let's hope so.

Leah, I'm glad you will share it. Longfellow's words need to be heard, the real ones, not the happy clappy version.