God Is Not Dead


One verse of Henry Longfellow’s poem “I Heard the Bells” strikes a cord with us this Christmas as we deal with tragedy and terrorism:

 

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!”

 

Here is the story of how Longfellow came to write such a despondent verse of poetry:

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day flowed from the experience of Longfellow involving the tragic death of his wife Fanny and the crippling war wounds of his son Charles.

Henry married Frances Appleton on July 13th 1843, and they settled down in the historic Craigie House overlooking the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They were blessed with the birth of their first child, Charles, on June 9th 1844.  

Tragedy struck both the nation and the Longfellow family in 1861. The opening salvos of the American Civil War were fired on April 12th.  Fanny Longfellow was fatally burned in an accident in her home three months later on July 10th.   After trimming her seven-year-old daughter’s hair, Fanny decided to preserve the clippings in sealing wax. Melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops fell on her dress. The breeze gusted through the window igniting Fanny’s dress and immediately wrapped her in flames.

 

  • Christmas 1861: The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.”
  • Christmas 1862: A year after the incident, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”
  • Christmas 1863: Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded with a bullet passing under his shoulder blades. The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow’s journal.
  • Christmas 1864: Finally, on Christmas Day of 1864, he wrote the words of the poem, “Christmas Bells.”  

 

Here are two verses of the poem that we need this Christmas.

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!”

 

Copyright (c) Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.

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