31 Days of Song, Day #18

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is a really beautiful song.  I like this version by Casting Crowns.  They've added a chorus, but it's still very close to the original lyrics.

* Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. Psalm 121:4

The famous Longfellow brothers were born and raised in Portland, Maine, in the 1800s.  Henry Wadsworth was born in 1807, and younger brother Samuel arrived in 1819.  Henry became a Harvard professor of literature and one of America's greatest writers, and Samuel became a Unitarian minister and hymnist.
   While Henry was publishing his books, however, dark clouds were gathering over his life and over all America.  In 1861, his wife tragically died when her dress caught fire in their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  That same year, the Civil War broke out, tearing the nation apart.  Two years later, during the fiercest days of the conflict, Henry's son, Charley, seventeen, ran away from home and hopped aboard a train to join President Lincoln's army.
   Charley proved a brave and popular soldier.  He saw action at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863, but in early June he contracted typhoid fever and malaria and was sent home to recover.  He missed the Battle of Gettysburg, but by August, Charley was well enough to return to the field.  On November 27, during the battle of New Hope Church in Virginia, he was shot through the left shoulder.  The bullet nicked his spine and came close to paralyzing him.  He was carried into the church and later taken to Washington to recuperate.
   Receiving the news on December 1, 1863, Henry left immediately for Washington.  He found his son well enough to travel, and they headed back to Cambridge, arriving home on December 8.  For weeks Henry sat by his son's bedside, slowly nursing his boy back to health.
   On Christmas Day, December 25, 1863, Henry gave vent to his feelings in this plaintive carol that can only be understood against the backdrop of war.  Two stanzas, now omitted from most hymnals, speak of the cannons thundering in the South and of hatred tearing apart "the hearth-stones of a continent".  The poet feels like dropping his head in despair, but then he hears the Christmas bells.  Their triumphant pealing reminds him that "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep".
   The Sunday school children of the Unitarian Church of the Disciples in Boston first sang this song during that year's Christmas celebration.  How wonderful that such a song should emerge from the bloody clouds of the War Between the States.

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!

I found the website I Am Second several months ago, through another blog I think.  I've really been enjoying the videos, especially in the past few days.  They're so encouraging, and really show the passion that these people feel as they revel in the fact that Christ saved them from dark lifestyles and patterns and has made their lives glorious through Him, in His light.  The one below is one I found particularly interesting.

* excerpt taken from Then Sings My Soul Special Edition by Robert Morgan, pages 46-47

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