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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Number 315: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow "Christmas Bells"

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."

--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Hap Notes: The story to this well-known poem is equally famous. Longfellow wrote these verses during the Civil War after his son had been severely wounded in battle. His son, Charles, had joined the army without Longfellow's permission and this news fell hard on the heels of the loss of his wife just months previous.

The poem has been set to music and used as a hymn. There are two fairly popular versions. Here's the popular Johnny Marks version: and and the Calkin version I grew up with:

I rarely think of this poem without remembering this very famous cartoon from 1939:

Here is where we have talked about Longfellow before:

and here:

The masthead is a charming vintage birthday postcard with Longfellow's picture and a verse from his poem "Maidenhood." Notice the use of the word "ruth" which gets little use now except when it is paired with paired with the ending"less." Ruth means a feeling of despairing pity. Did you realize that ruthless meant "unpitying" or "lacking compassion"?

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