“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" has been a popular Christmas carol for nearly 150 years. Originally a poem by Henry Longfellow titled “Christmas Bells”, the text was set to music by composer John Baptiste Calkin (1827-1905) in 1872.
Born in Portland, Maine on February 27, 1807, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) was a 19th century scholar, novelist, and poet, known for works like 'Voices of the Night,' 'Evangeline' and 'The Song of Hiawatha.' On the morning of Christmas Day 1863, Longfellow was inspired to write a poem as he listened to church bells ringing throughout the town. The poem titled “Christmas Bells”, addresses Longfellow's deep despair at the time over the loss of his wife years earlier, his son who was wounded in the American Civil War, and the horrors of war. However, despite his sadness, in the end, Longfellow expresses his belief in God and innate hope that:
God is not dead; nor doth he sleep
The Wrong shall fail;
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
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.”