Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

Today we have both a poem and a song lyric (it's a dessert topping and a floor wax!).

On Christmas 1864 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882) penned this poem, reflecting the weariness of the country with the Civil War, and the hope that it might soon end. There was probably some of his own personal despair, having lost his wife in a fire three years before that and then having his oldest son severely wounded in battle.

(As an aside, I learned that the reason Longfellow had that long thick beard was because he no longer could shave after having also been burned, trying in vain to save his wife.)

I fondly remember seeing a statue of Longfellow every time I went to downtown Portland, Maine. His boyhood home was on the main drag (Congress Street), surrounded by a large retail building on one side and the even larger Portland Public Library on the other. However, there was a charming little garden right next to the house that was always open to the public, and visiting it was like a trip to an enchanted place, blocking out all the sounds of the city.

As, for the poem: it was first set to music in 1872 by John B. Calkin and then, more commonly known, by Johnny Marks ("Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer") in the 1950s. This is the one you hear if you happen to have Christmas CDs. The fourth and fifth stanzas are usually omitted, since they most directly deal with the Civil War and would make the song less timeless. However, it is the poem that we print here, with all seven stanzas.

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, 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!"

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