Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Christmas Music

As I've mentioned before I love Christmas music. One of my favorite Christmas songs is "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day." Originally a poem written in December 1863 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called Christmas Bells, it is the release of personal tragedy and hard times as only a poet can write.

Longfellow had lost his wife in 1861 after her clothing caught on fire while lighting a candle. The family was in the midst of the Civil War and Longfellow was dealing with the realities of raising a family as a single parent. On top of all this his son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, ran away to enlist in the Union Army in March 1863.
Lieutenant Charles Appleton Longfellow, Co. G, 1st Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment 
Lt. Longfellow was severely injured November 27, 1863 at the battle of New Hope Church, Virginia. His father learned of his wound when a journalist found Lt. Longsfellow and cabled the poet to tell him it was a grievous wound. Longfellow and his son Ernest Wadsworth traveled to Washington, D.C. to find him, spending several days in a search for him not knowing if they would find him alive or dead. After some time they did find Lt. Longsfellow and were able to bring him home to recover. The torment of the loss of his wife, the Civil War and fears for his son come through his poetic words, especially in the sixth stanza.
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, goodwill 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!”

The poem was set to music sometime after 1872 by John Baptise Calkin with later versions by Joseph Mainzer and Johnny Marks. The fourth and fifth stanzas, those that speak directly about the Civil War, are no longer heard in popular renditions of the song.

1 comment:

Shelley Bishop said...

I never knew the background of this song, Heather, or its connection to the Civil War. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.