by Cindy Bleuler Tucker
One of my favorite poems and carols because of the story behind it. The truths, fears, and hopes expressed in this song are just as relevant today as the day Longfellow penned the words. I first published this article in PresChat, December 2003.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of America’s finest poets, had it made at the age of 22. He had fame, position, a loving wife, and a beautiful home. He could trace his ancestry to the Mayflower and was proud to be a member of a family that had helped shape the United States’ birth and rise to success.
But as with all men, great sorrow entered his life. A year later, his beloved wife died. After a seven-year period of withdrawal and grieving, he remarried. He and his second wife welcomed five children into the world. By 1860, he was considered one of the greatest writers in the New World. However, tragedy struck again. His second wife caught herself on fire lighting a match and burned to death. As his faith was severely tested, he saw his beloved nation torn apart by war. He pled with God to end the horrible war. His despair turned to rage when his oldest son was wounded in battle. As he cared for his son, saw the many wounded and the bereaved families of the dead, he asked his friends and his God, “where is the peace?” This is the question he attempted to answer in verse, Christmas 1863.
I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play. And wild and sweet, the words repeat, of peace on earth goodwill 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 goodwill 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 goodwill to man!
Then from each black, accursed mouth the cannon thundered in the south, and with the sound the carols drowned of peace on earth goodwill 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 peal 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, goodwill to men!”
Almost 150 years later, as we see a world full of violence and hopelessness, we too, like Longfellow can rejoice in the supremacy of our righteous and loving Lord.
Information and quote came from “Stories Behind the Best-lived Songs of Christmas” by Ace Collins