Christmas Music Matters: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

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As another meditation on Christmas Music, I offer for your consideration  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s “Christmas Bells,” better known as “I heard the bells on Christmas Day.” It was originally written as a poem in 1863 during the American Civil War, and set to music in 1872 by the English organist, John Baptiste Calkin:

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.”

Here is the familiar Calkin version:

This hymn has been adapted many, many times, its message is so universal. Here is a particularly moving version for your meditation:

And another:

There’s not much more for me to add. Sing the hymn, meditate on it, and let’s make Peace real.

Merry Christmas!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

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