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Posted on Dec 2, 2016 by Lisa Moose


A Mournful Song of Hope

Inspired by “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

Lyrics – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863

Music – John Baptiste Calkin, 1872


“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”     Luke 2:14

 Christmas 1863 found the United States in a state of despair. The Civil War which threatened to tear the young country asunder was in its third year. The horrendously bloody battles of Shiloh, Antietam, Vicksburg, and Gettysburg, had been waged and the realities and horrors of war had been dealt on both sides of the house divided. Newspaper headlines were gloomy, morale was low, and families were facing yet another Christmas with missing family members and fears of what the days ahead held. 

Among the affected was well known poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow’s wife had perished in a tragic fire in 1861 leaving the poet with facial scars and a widower with six children. In early 1863, Longfellow’s oldest son, Charles, secretly joined the Union forces and by late fall was severely injured facing the possibility of paralysis. Shortly before Christmas, Charles was able to return home. According to Longfellow’s journal entries during these years, he found Christmas painful to bear. It was under these conditions that Longfellow wrote the poem “Christmas Bells.” In 1872, the poem was shortened and set to music by John Baptiste Calkin.

The poem is mournful with the writer musing the present-day situation.

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 it is at the poem’s lowest point that God suddenly appears:

                                    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.”

            Christmas 2016 finds us still despairing with gloomy headlines of hate and mockery. Christianity and the beliefs we hold dear are under attack in our country as never before. World news of terrorism and strife may fill us with despair, but as believers we have the promise of

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