‘Christmas Bells’

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.”

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1864)

 

Longfellow was, of course, responding to the American Civil War in the fourth stanza; the poem is simple in structure and vocabulary; in a later generation, A.E. Housman would perfect (in my, admittedly amateur, judgement) this technique of concealing craft in simple phrasing, and so intensifying the emotional impact. For me, the closing stanza captures just the right message for this Christmas season: ‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail…’

A merry Christmas, and a peaceful new year, to all readers of this blog.

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