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Christmas Bells

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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!”

About “Christmas Bells”

“Christmas Bells” is a minor, yet well known, poem written by a very melancholy Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas morning in 1863 during the midst of the Civil War. It is anti-slavery poem as well as a seasonal favorite.

The poem was written six months after the battle of Gettysburg where 40,000 soldiers lost their life. In addition to despairing over the bloody war, Henry was also mourning the death of his beloved wife Fanny Appleton Longfellow. Fanny died in a tragic fire the same year that the Civil War broke out. In November of 1862 another personal tragedy added to his pain. His son, Union Lieutenant Charles Appleton, was wounded in the Army of the Potomac.

On Christmas morning in 1863, while sitting at his desk at the Craigie House in Cambridge, MA, Henry was inspired to write a poem as he listened to the church bells pealing. Their constancy and joyous ringing inspired him to write “Christmas Bells.” In spite of his sadness, Longfellow expresses his belief in God and innate optimism that indeed:

God is not dead; nor doth he sleep
The Wrong shall fail;
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!

Sometime after 1872 Longfellow’s poem was adapted into a Christmas Carol. John B. Caulkin (1827-1905) was a famous English composer who set the lyrics to a gentle, melodic tune which is reminiscent of bells ringing. The carol is entitled “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Alternative tunes have been written for the lyrics but Caulkin’s melody remains predominant.

I lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1966 – 1967. I was in the seventh and eighth grade. My father was in the United States Air Force at the time. As a student at Portsmouth Junior High School I took field trips to both Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Longfellow was a Bowdoin College graduate and was a faculty member before moving to Cambridge to teach at Harvard. We placed great emphasis when I was in junior high school on a classical education with understanding and appreciation of the arts including poetry.

Originally posted on December 22, 2012.

Reflections of Christmas Present and Past

It’s Wednesday, December 25, 2013, Christmas Day. It’s a beautiful, sunny day in north Texas. The temperature is 52.4 degrees Fahrenheit. The time is 1:48 PM. I have a load of laundry going.

I’m sitting in my home office listening to “Carpenter’s Gold: Greatest Hits”. The current song playing is “Superstar”. I’m listening to it play on a ten-year old Hewitt-Packard Pentium III Personal Computer. The computer’s operating system is Linux Mint 16 “Petra” Cinnamon. It is a complete Open Source computer.

I feel very at peace today. My wife Benita is in her bedroom resting in the recliner. She had major surgery for an intestinal malroation on December 19. We brought her home last night late. The surgery went well. They found a tumor during the surgery. They were no able to remove all of it. We do not know the pathology yet.

It is just the two of us here. We have three grown children. Our oldest son will turn 37 years old in less than a month. He is single, never married. He lives about ten miles from us. He is at home sick with a fever and bronchitis like symptoms. Our second son is 33 years old. He lives with us. Today he has gone to my parents to celebrate Christmas. Both of my parents are living. Dad was born in 1927. Mother was born in 1933. She had a kidney transplant in 2011. Our 29 years old daughter Sara and her family have also gone to my parents to celebrate Christmas.

Sunday, December 15th, we celebrate Christmas with our daughter’s family and oldest son. This morning we exchanged gifts with our second son and each other. I got Miss Benita an upgrade on our cable television service for Christmas. She’ll be home for at least six weeks recovering from surgery. Better television options will help her pass the time.

I received wonderful gifts. First was a gift of five pairs of black socks. Second was a DVD of the six season of “The Big Bang Theory” television show. Third was a gift set of Old Spice deodorant and after shave.

This is Miss Benita and my thirty-eighth Christmas as husband and wife. We’ve celebrated every Christmas together since 1972.

Benita and her family helped make wonderful Christmas memories. Her family would have a big dinner on Christmas Eve. Her extended family would attend. The house would be full of cousins. After dining we would retire to the living room and spend hours exchanging gifts. We would go from the youngest to the oldest. I remember the joy Miss Benita had buying the gifts, wrapping the gifts and seeing the excitement on the recipients face.

Christmas 1974 was only three days before our wedding. The wedding over shadowed Christmas.

Christmas 1975 was exciting and melancholy. I had just graduated from college. Three days after Christmas we departed for active duty in the United States Army. Our little car was loaded and we headed to Fort Benning, Georgia.

Christmas 1976 found Benita 8 months pregnant. She flew from Seattle, Washington to Dallas for celebrate Christmas. I joined her a few weeks later and departed a week early returning home.

Christmas 1977 was one of my favorite and I think Benita’s least favorite. We celebrated it in Washington State. It was the first time she ever had no been with her family for Christmas. She was so sad and depressed it quenched my excitement of establishing our own traditions. It was the first with our son Kris.

Christmas 1978 had us back in Texas. I had come off US Army active duty. It was celebrated with family. 1979 and 1980 were also celebrated with family as I was in seminary with us living near our folks. I would graduate and we would move just a few weeks later to Atlanta, Georgia as we went to serve our first church congregation.

Christmas 1981 had us in Georgia. I was overwhelmed by all the Christmas parties and celebrations at church. We attended over 30 Christmas parties. During the next 16 yeas our Christmas schedule would be as full. We drove two miles north on Christmas Day to Johnson City, Tennessee to see friends from US Army days. They had snow. The trip only served to make Miss Benita miss her family.

Christmas 1982 had us on the move. We moved from Georgia to Bogalusa, Louisiana. We moved just before Christmas and came to Texas for the holidays.

Christmas 1983 had us vacationing in frigid north Texas. It was another extend family Christmas.

Christmas 1984 was the third one where we had it in our own home. Our daughter had been born 6 weeks earlier.

Christmas 1985 – 1994 were spent with Benita’s family. I often had to work, but she would pack up the kids and go to Dallas area for the holidays. Most of the time I would join them for a least Christmas Day.

Christmas 1995 was different, somber. It was my last in ministry. The Wednesday before Christmas I was told the new incoming preacher did not want me as his education minister. I was forced to make a change. It was the first Christmas after Benita’s dad had died.

Christmas 1996 was the darkest economically in our marriage. I was failing to earn enough money for expenses.

Christmas 1997 – 1998 had me working Christmas Day. Traditions changed as we still did Christmas a Benita’s mom’s, but it was different. Less of the cousins attended.

Christmas 1999 – 2003 were still with the extend family. 2003 was the last at Benita’s childhood home.

Christmas 2004 had Benita’s mother celebrating it out-of-state with her youngest daughter. Our daughter Sara and her future hubby drove her to Tennessee.

Christmas 2005 found Benita’s mom near death from a stroke. She would pass away a few weeks later. We did more and more with my parents at Christmas.

Christmas 2006 – 2012 had us doing Christmas with my parents.

Christmas 2013 is the fourth we have celebrated at our home is 39 years.