25 Days of Christmas Quotes: Day 22

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the poem Christmas Bells, which would eventually become the well-known Christmas carol I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. You probably recognize the beginning of the poem:

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!

The poem continues with the narrator’s mixed emotional response to the sound of the bells, reflecting Longfellow’s personal feelings and experience.

Around the time Longfellow wrote the poem, tragic circumstances oppressed him and his fellow Americans. The Civil War raged, leaving behind a wet trail of blood across a divided nation. Longfellow’s son was seriously injured in the war, and his wife died after sustaining burns in a fire at home.

These events affected Longfellow deeply, and the reader feels his anguish and grief particularly in the following stanza:

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!”

But in his very next words, a message of hope breaks forth:

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.”

Peace and good will toward men may seem scarce commodities in today’s world as well. But as Longfellow writes, the wrong shall eventually fail and the right prevail.

Even when external circumstances make us bow our heads in despair, however, we don’t have to wait until “eventually” to feel peace internally: that is part of the glorious Christmas message. God is not dead, nor doth he sleep: Christ can soothe our troubled souls NOW. Another part of the Christmas message: we can show good will toward each other even in troubling circumstances.

So when we (figuratively or literally) hear the bells on Christmas Day, we know better than to despair.

Instead, like Longfellow, we choose hope.

xmas22

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