When faced with life's challenges,
it is Important to Remember
that although Daniel was saved from the lions,
he was not saved from the Lion's Den.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I love this song.  Actually, it is probably my favorite song of the entire season. There is something so sad about it, and then the last verse comes out so powerful and hope fills my heart.  What makes this song so special though, is the story behind it.  I heard it recited on Music and the Spoken Word, on the BYU channel.  I have always loved the story, but it means so much more to me now.  We each face trials.  It is part of why we came here.  But, believe it or not, it is not the trials that break us.  It is what we do or do not do because of them.  "I heard the Bells on Christmas Day" was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

This story, about the hymn “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” was taken from this website (which gives permission to share and copy the article).

One of America’s best known poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), contributed to the wealth of carols sung each Christmas season, when he composed the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” on December 25th 1864. The carol was originally a poem, “Christmas Bells,” containing seven stanzas…

The poem gave birth to the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” and… five [of the seven] stanzas [two referring to the Civil War were removed] were slightly rearranged in 1872 by John Baptiste Calkin (1827-1905), who also gave us the memorable tune.
When Longfellow penned the words to his poem, America was still months away from Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9th 1865; and, his poem reflected the prior years of the war’s despair, while ending with a confident hope of triumphant peace. (…[At this time, Lincoln] prompted his countrymen to “rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”)

As with any composition that touches the heart of the hearer, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” flowed from the experience of Longfellow– involving the tragic death of his wife Fanny and the crippling injury of his son Charles from war wounds…. Henry married Frances Appleton [Fanny] on July 13th 1843, and they settled down in the historic Craigie House overlooking the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They were blessed with…five children– Charles, Ernest, Alice, Edith, and Allegra….

Tragedy struck both the nation and the Longfellow family in 1861. Confederate Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard fired the opening salvos of the American Civil War on April 12th, and Fanny Longfellow was fatally burned in an accident in the library of Craigie House on July 10th…. After trimming some of seven year old Edith’s beautiful curls, Fanny decided to preserve the clippings in sealing wax. Melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops fell unnoticed upon her dress. The longed for sea breeze gusted through the window, igniting the light material of Fanny’s dress– immediately wrapping her in flames. In her attempt to protect Edith and Allegra, she ran to Henry’s study in the next room, where Henry frantically attempted to extinguish the flames with a nearby, but undersized throw rug…. Failing to stop the fire with the rug, he tried to smother the flames by throwing his arms around Frances– severely burning his face, arms, and hands. Fanny Longfellow died the next morning. Too ill from his burns and grief, Henry did not attend her funeral. (Incidentally, the trademark full beard of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow arose from his inability to shave after this tragedy.)

The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year after the incident, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” Longfellow’s journal entry for December 25th 1862 reads: “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”
Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded with a bullet passing under his shoulder blades and taking off one of the spinal processes. The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow’s journal…. Finally, on Christmas Day of 1864, he wrote the words of the poem, “Christmas Bells.” The reelection of Abraham Lincoln or the possible end of the terrible war may have been the occasion for the poem. Lt. Charles Longfellow did not die that Christmas, but lived. So, contrary to popular belief, the occasion of writing that much loved Christmas carol was not due to Charles’ death.
Longfellow’s Christmas bells loudly proclaimed, “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep”

Here are the words to that Christmas Carol that were written so long ago. 

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), 1867)

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.

I 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.

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."

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!

May you find your peace in the Savior this Christmas season and always.  And my you continue to have everlasting hope and joy in His love. 
"It is not enough to know that God lives, that Jesus Christ is our
Savior, and that the gospel is true. We must take the high road by acting
upon that knowledge." Elder Dallon H. Oaks

"The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature."
--Ezra Taft Benson, "Born of God", Ensign, July 1989, 2

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