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The Original “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

Posted By Justin Taylor On December 18, 2012 @ 8:41 am In Uncategorized | Comments Disabled

The Casting Crowns version:

The lyrics originate from the poem “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written on Christmas day in 1863. But the original was not a feel-good song but one born in grief. Longfellow’s wife had died in a fire in 1860. And on December 1, 1863, the widower received the news that his eldest son, 19-year-old Charley, had been nearly paralyzed by a gunshot wound fighting for the Union in the Civil War. It was with that background that he penned this poem about the dissonance between the Christmas bells, the singing of “peace on earth,” and the world around him of injustice and violence—ending with the hope for eschatological peace.

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 the earth, good-will to men.”


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