Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"There Is No Peace on Earth," I Said

Christmas Bells
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!”

Longfellow's wife had died due to an accidental fire a few years before, and he never really recovered from it, developing, in fact, a laudanum problem to cope. He had even been unable to attend her funeral because he was burned badly trying to save her from the fire. It is clear that Christmas especially hit him hard each year because of it; he once wrote that all holidays were inexpressibly sad. His son Charles had been seriously wounded in the War; Longfellow was still trying to nurse him back to health. And this was still months away from Lee's surrender and the end of the Civil War. He wrote this on Christmas Day, 1864.

But the Civil War did end, and Charles went on to have a productive life, traveling the world.

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