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I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Words: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1864 Music: Tune, WALTHAM, by John Baptiste Calkin, 1872

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his poem, "Christmas Bells," at the height of the Civil War in 1863. Against his father's wishes, Longfellow's son joined the war and was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church in Virginia. Shortly prior to his son's being wounded, Longfellow's wife had died in a fire. Longfellow wrote "Christmas Bells" on Christmas Day of 1863. The text tells of hearing the bells ring on Christmas Day, but instead of the message of "peace on earth, good will to men," the message is a strong one of hate that mocks such a song. The text ends, however, with a final ringing of the bells that proclaims the message that God is alive, that right will prevail with peace on earth and good will to men.

There are two stanzas related to the Civil War that are customarily omitted from the hymn:

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!

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" (Sibelius)

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" (pdf)

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