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I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

It’s difficult to say what it is that inspires a great hymn. For some, their lyrics are born out of a great victory in their lives. Others find greatness in writing about their own tragedies. Some writers are prolific while others will only write one song in their entire lifetime. While most hymn writers are obscure, we also find a few gems written by the great masters of literature. Today’s hymn was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Longfellow was greatly affected by the Civil War. He dreaded it and he mourned for his country. Long before the war, his first wife had died in childbirth, but he remarried and started over with a new family.

After the war started, his wife was tragically killed when her dress caught fire. Longfellow was incapacitated by his own injuries as he tried to save her. He wore a thick beard the rest of his life to hide his own scars from the accident. He never really recovered from her death and then violence came to him again when his son nearly died from his wounds in the war.

Longfellow became weary of the war and longed for peace to come to his country again. When his great friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne, died; he wrote a poem about a yearning desire for peace on earth. His poem, called “Christmas Bells,” leads us through his own self doubts about God’s goodness and the prospect of there ever being peace again. In the end, his peace with God is restored as he hears the Christmas Bells playing in a church on Christmas Day of 1864. We know it today as:


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,