A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 347: Christmas Bells

civil war

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.”

Written with the backdrop of one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history, the American Civil War, “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is far more than a seasonal carol. He published these words in 1863, just two years after his wife had died tragically in a fire, and just a month after he received the news that his son was severely wounded in the battle of New Hope Church in Virginia. It is a poem of hope under intense duress; a shaken belief of peace on earth when all around was devastation, both literal and figurative. But he emerges from that dark place brought on by the “thunder” from each “black accursed mouth” into the light of a trust in a God more powerful than hate or violence or anything else that would attempt to destroy what is good.

The world I look out on and experience internally is not so different from what confronted Longfellow. I am grateful for these words that he penned so long ago for their power in the here and now, for my Christmas season and yours that comes at the end of a bitter 2017.

Christmas Bells

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

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.”

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