Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was one of America’s most beloved poets. His poetry brought him world-wide acclaim with such masterpieces as “Evangeline,” “The Song of Hiawatha,” and “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” Many a child in school was pulled to the edge of his seat while listening to Longfellow’s famous poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

Longfellow was no stranger to tragedy and sorrow. His first wife died in a miscarriage and his second wife perished in a house fire. His oldest son, Charles, was seriously wounded while serving as a Union Army officer during the Civil War.

On Christmas Day, 1864, the carnage of the Civil War distressed Longfellow beyond measure. The horrendous suffering and countless young bodies and lives maimed or lost weighed heavily upon him. While sitting by the bedside of Charles who was recovering from his near-fatal wounds, Longfellow composed the words to a poem he entitled, “Christmas Bells.” Eight years later the words were edited and set to music. Today, most any hymnal you peruse will contain his poem/song entitled, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

Three stanzas speak directly about the ongoing war in Longfellow’s day:


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!”


Longfellow did not end his poem in despair with bowed head, for he knew God was writing a grander narrative. His closing stanza expresses it clearly:


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!”


This Christmas, as Christians sing this and other carols of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we do so with the clear vision that our world is not teetering or tottering out of control. The King of Kings, upon whose shoulders the governments rest, reigns in heaven! One day the trumpet will sound, and the first noel will become the last noel.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!