The Christmas Carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day is based on an 1863 poem by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was the nation’s preeminent poet of his era. The song proclaims the narrator’s despair, as he heard Christmas bells in the distance.
He bows his head, “There is no peace on earth,” [he] said,
“for hate is strong and mocks the song
of peace on earth, good will to men.”
But then the carol inexplicably changes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among mankind.
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.”
So why the change and how did the poem come to be?
I’d first heard its history many years ago when journalist and author Tom Brokaw shared it on a televised Christmas special. I’ve never heard the song since without thinking of those circumstances. In understanding its origins it is now numbered among my favorite Christmas carols.
I’m often interested in the story behind the story and this one began for Longfellow in 1861. The sudden death of a loved one and later the serious, almost fatal, wounding of another during the Civil War was Henry’s inspiration. I intended to share the account here, in my own way, with thoughts of a father, the depths of war and of my Christian faith. But, in my research I came across the video below. With the inspiring words of actor Edward Herrman and the backdrop of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir I thought to myself, “I cannot possibly do better than this.” So, I share it instead.
Inspiring and a story worthy of sharing in every home of every Christian, everywhere, I hope you find it as meaningful as I do.