970) Peace on Earth?


San Bernardino, California; December 2, 2015


     As in the picture above, the Christmas carol I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day expresses the sad message that “there is no peace on earth.”  The song was originally written as a poem, Christmas Bells, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882).  Longfellow’s first wife, Mary, died in 1835 at the age of 22 after a miscarriage.  He was deeply saddened by her death, writing “One thought occupies me night and day…  She is dead — She is dead!  All day I am weary and sad.”  Eight years later he married Frances Appleton, and they had six children.  In an accident at their home in 1861 Frances’ dress caught fire and she was badly burned.  Longfellow was also severely burned as he tried to save her.  Frances died the next day, and though Longfellow’s burns healed, he was again heartbroken.  That was the same year the American Civil War broke out and for four years the nation was torn apart by that long nightmare.  In November of 1863 Longfellow’s son Charles was severely wounded in a battle in Virginia.  

     On Christmas day of that year Longfellow heard the church bells ringing and wrote Christmas Bells.  The poem expresses his despair, saying that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men;” but then concludes on the word of hope that God will prevail and there will again be peace.

     The poem was first set to music in 1872 by English organist John Calkin.  Only five of the seven stanzas are in the commonly used version, but there have been other musical arrangements and other versions of the lyrics.


Christmas Bells

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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!”


The song “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day” performed by Casting Crowns:



Luke 2:13-14  —  Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

John 14:27  —  (Jesus said), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Colossians 3:15  —  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.


 Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

–From a 1955 song by Sy and Jill Miller