Treasure Island

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

(27 February 1807 – 24 March 1882 / Portland, Maine)

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I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day


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 th'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.

Submitted: Saturday, January 03, 2004

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Read poems about / on: peace, christmas, song, despair, hate, sleep, world, god, night

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Comments about this poem (I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow )

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  • * Sunprincess * (12/25/2013 8:50:00 AM)

    I love this poem...I feel the Christmas spirit in this write...
    and it is also inspiring me to write a poem for the season... (Report) Reply

  • Michael Moyo (12/25/2013 2:20:00 AM)

    this is great.frankly u inspired me today.im primitive in writing.i hope u can help me (Report) Reply

  • Leslie Ramatowski (6/4/2013 11:04:00 AM)

    The two civil war stanzas are missing. They should be included on a site such as this or perhaps both versions offered. (Report) Reply

  • Srimayee Ganguly (12/25/2012 2:32:00 AM)

    I wrote a poem on Christmas when i was in class V. Here's the poem:

    THE SAVIOUR
    Again the time of the year came,
    And everything is not the same,
    There is darkness everywhere,
    “I will win peace”, Jesus swear.

    In the stable on the hay
    Near Madonna, Lord Jesus lay,
    Greeting everyone the angel came,
    To receive the calling of the Lord came.

    The shepherds left their sheep,
    And gone to the city deep,
    And came to the spot and did peep,
    And saw the Lord asleep.

    He done what he wanted in Bethlehem.
    And was nailed by Satan’s followers, evil and cruel;
    Everyone unhappy and gloom,
    Jesus we all trust you. (Report) Reply

  • Greg Trotter (12/23/2012 8:33:00 AM)

    This isn't actually his poem, these are the words to a hymn based on his poem. The actual poem is longer, and in a different order. It's about Christmas during the Civil War, and the actual poem mentions cannons (something that was edited out for the Christmas carol) . (Report) Reply

  • Lenore Lee (2/1/2012 4:24:00 PM)

    This poem is so sad and yet perfectly true. It seems that Christmas, more than any other time of the year mocks one's pain for everyone is singing 'merry' while one only wants to cry in despair. This poem is about depression but also about a dream; a dream of peace on earth and goodwill to men. I hope that one day this dream willl finally come true. (Report) Reply

  • Carlos Echeverria (2/1/2012 10:55:00 AM)

    Who hasn't gone through the holiday season with a heavy heart? Longfellow heard the bells in spite of the gloom he felt. He's not preaching religion, but sharing his conflicted experience. (Report) Reply

  • Timothy Atchison (12/28/2011 10:40:00 PM)

    The words stated above are incomplete and in slightly wrong order. The last stanza should be third and there are two additional stanzas - fourth and fifth as follows:

    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. (Report) Reply

  • Nadine Nadeau (12/26/2011 6:41:00 PM)

    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote this poem three years after the tragic death of his wife. In 1861, Fanny Longfellow was gravely burned in a freak accident. While attempting to preserve a lock of her daughter’s hair with sealing wax, a breeze through a window redirected the candle’s flame from the wax to her dress. Within moments she was engulfed in flames. Longfellow was in the next room and when he heard his wife’s screams, he rushed in, and tried to help extinguish the flames. The following day, however, Fanny died from the burns. Longfellow was devastated.

    Later he wrote in a journal about that difficult time. “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays. I can make no record of these days. Better to leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps one day God will give me peace. ‘A Merry Christmas, the children say, but that is no more for me.’”

    Three years after his wife’s death, as he was listening to church bells, Longfellow wrote the poem, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The words of the poem capture a turning point in his understanding, a move from despair to faith. You can hear Longfellow’s despair, but also the affirmation that God is not dead, that there is hope. This is the real message of both Christmas and Easter.

    This carol is especially important for those who have suffered great loss and feel taunted by the levity of the Christmas season, which seems to mock their pain. Statistics show that there are more suicides of those who are enduring great grief and hurt at Christmas time than at any other time of the year. If this carol doesn’t move you, then that’s okay. There are plenty other carols for you to sing or ridicule. But for those who are hurting, these are words that acknowledge that reality, while providing hope, encouragement, and a peace that only faith in God can give.

    For more information on the background of this carol, check out: http: //discovertheword.org/2011/12/23/ (Report) Reply

  • Anthony Foster (2/1/2011 3:18:00 PM)

    Nothing about love here very interesting was it not the done thing to mention or with peace and goodwill shows love. Another abstract that will follow the mood of history. (Report) Reply

  • Terence George Craddock (2/1/2011 1:27:00 PM)

    'I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is obviously from the title, a poem with a theme connected in some way to the birth of Jesus Christ. The first stanza immediately declares the main theme ‘Of peace on earth, good will to men.’ Longfellow beautifully introduces this theme with bells, carols, wild and sweet words to promote the true meaning of Christmas.
    The second stanza relates how ‘The belfries of all Christendom/ Had rolled along th'unbroken song’ which actually means peace and good will to all people on earth. A noble ideal and goal for all humanity. This sentiment therefore sets up the sad reality in the third stanza that this peace is still unrealized with the words ‘And in despair I bowed my head: / 'There is no peace on earth, ' I said/ 'For hate is strong, and mocks the song’.
    The fourth stanza celebrates faith in the promise that justice will triumph, boldly proclaimed with ‘Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: / 'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; / The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, ’The entire final stanza and the fourth line of every stanza celebrates the theme ‘Of peace on earth, good will to men.’
    Is the theme of peace and good will to all people ‘rotten content’? To those suffering from oppression or victims in wars globally obviously it is not. Myth is “a traditional story about heroes or supernatural beings, often attempting to explain the origins of natural phenomena or aspects of human behavior”.
    Jesus Christ is a prophet or the son of God and more in the belief and faith of two major world religions. One fact is clear, Jesus was a real person who was born, lived and died in disputed circumstances; several major Roman historians even attest to the truth of these historical facts. Fact not myth.
    The fact Jesus is a major historical religious figure, believed in by several billion people in two major religions, in different ways in many denominations; history, religion, not mythology, answers the question of why themes connected with this name continue to appear in poetry.
    Hindu, Buddhists, Jews etc also enjoy their right to write about their religions. Therefore who is the ‘we’, who do not believe? A minority called atheists who BELIEVE their is no God. This BELIEF in no God, is actually a religion of denial. A belief resolute in believing there is no God. Only an agnostic who believes the existence or non-existence of any deity, is unknowable and unprovable and does not have any belief; actually has no religion. (Report) Reply

  • Joseph Poewhit (2/1/2010 2:41:00 PM)

    Interesting the use of belfries in the poem. Depicts a more sustained Christian culture of his era. (Report) Reply

  • Guybrush Threepwood (2/1/2010 9:24:00 AM)

    Y'know, a lot of Kevin Straw's comments on these poems are helpful-there seems to be a lot of knowledge of poetry and symbol floating around in the man's head. But dude... he gets way too hung up on his deep, burning hate for all things religion.

    I'm sorry for not addressing the subject of the poem, but I just read so many of his comments....

    Maybe he's just angry that T.S. Eliot became a Christian? (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (2/1/2010 5:39:00 AM)

    Good prosody, but rotten content. I am not interested in poetry which peddles myth. We got rid of classical myth in poetry because we ceased to believe in it, why should the Christian myth be treated differently? (Report) Reply

  • Indira Renganathan (2/1/2010 3:25:00 AM)

    First I like the musical rhythm...then the intensifying meaning from the third stanza...on the whole hats off to the old song repeated and the poet (Report) Reply

  • Indira Renganathan (2/1/2010 3:25:00 AM)

    First I like the musical rhythm...then the intensifying meaning from the third stanza...on the whole hats off to the old song repeated and the poet (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (2/1/2010 1:20:00 AM)

    Faith gives confidence to pull on rough times! Indeed the poem inspires to rely on faith to achieve the promise of song! And so, the old song is repeated time and again! (Report) Reply

Read all 26 comments »

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