Henry Wadsworth Longfellow heard the bells on that Christmas Day, 1864.
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.
He wrote these words while the Civil War raged with wave after wave of violence across our nation. Few of us, perhaps none of us can grasp the magnitude of human suffering of such a time.
He wrote these words in spite of the notice, the opened letter, that would surely have been laying somewhere near him—the one informing him that his son was presumed dead in the war.
He wrote these words while grieving alone—no wife to share these emotions or to comfort—because she had died just one month before, in November.
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
There is evil in the world; it is an impersonal force that does very personal things to each one of us. However, the enemy bears the ultimate burden of defeat -- when the bells of Christmas ring. This perspective, this irrational optimism despite the overwhelming anguish compelled Longfellow to reach out and grasp his pen and with confidence he continued the next verse:
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.”
He wrote these words with absolute confidence they represented an accurate description of what was going on. His knowledge compelled him to compose these verses in the midst of his overwhelming sense of pain and loss.
This is part of the miracle of Christmas. You see, the birth of Christ brings the world eyes to see, ears to hear, and minds to understand things beyond appearances, beyond what the senses or the unredeemed intellect could fathom.
Despite the chaos or any hardship we may currently bear, if we have ears to hear, we too can hear the bells on Christmas day.
WIll YOU hear the bells?
(Dedicated to “Wolf” — may you hear the bells once again….)
—Michael R Cooley