Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Poetry Corner: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

a special message for the season

Our original plan for Christmas Day was to travel to my parents’ house to celebrate with turkey and presents. But we’re snowed in. The thermometer on the back porch rail is now completely buried, so baby we can’t tell how cold it is out there. Instead of traveling, we are enjoying staying in. Gerald and I made tamales last night, and there’s plenty of turkey here.

Of course, I have my holiday tunes going on my iTunes, and one that keeps coming back, and that I find especially meaningful, is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

The words of the song are based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Christmas Bells,” written on Christmas Eve, 1863, in the midst of the American Civil War. The horrible bloodshed of that conflict would lead many to despair, as the narrator in Longfellow’s poem expresses.

But the spirit of the bells’ message comes through in a message of hope and optimism, that good and right will triumph in the end. Still today, with all of the conflict and misery in the world, it’s a message that we need.

The carol as we sing it today omits two of the stanzas of the original poem.

Christmas Bells
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882

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."

Thanks to Poem of the Week for the words.

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Blogger Carol Anne said...

I might add that the version of the carol that I have on my iTunes was recorded in 1943, and both the introduction and the intervals between verses are bells chiming out various other familiar carols, such as "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "O, Come All Ye Faithful." It's pretty moving.

Sat Dec 27, 04:35:00 AM MST  

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