Wednesday, December 12, 2012

One of My Favorite Carols

I have several favorite Christmas carols. Some I like for their message, others for the memories I've attached to them. I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day is one I love for the history behind it:

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" was the outpouring of the heart of Henry Longfellow after experiencing the tragic death of his wife Fanny and then the crippling injury of his son Charles from wounds suffered after he secretly ran away to join the Civil War effort. 

Henry married Frances Appleton on July 13, 1843 and they settled down in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They were blessed with the birth of their first child, Charles, on June 9, 1844 and eventually the Longfellow household numbered five children: Charles, Ernest, Alice, Edith, and Allegra. 

Tragedy struck both America and the Longfellow family in 1861. The opening  of the American Civil War on April 12th and Fanny Longfellow was fatally burned in an accident on July 10th. The day before the accident, Fanny Longfellow recorded in her journal: "We are all sighing for the good sea breeze instead of this stifling land one filled with dust. Poor Allegra is very droopy with heat, and Edie has to get her hair in a net to free her neck from the weight." 

After trimming some of seven year old Edith's curls, Fanny decided to preserve the clippings in sealing wax. Melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops fell upon her dress. The material of Fanny's dress ignited, immediately wrapping her in flames. She ran to Henry in the next room, where he frantically attempted to extinguish the flames with a nearby throw rug. Failing to stop the fire with the rug, he tried to smother the flames by throwing his arms around Frances. He severely burned his face, arms, and hands. Fanny Longfellow died the next morning. Too ill from his burns, Henry did not attend her funeral. 

The first Christmas after Fanny's death, Longfellow wrote in his journal, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays." 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." Longfellow's journal entry for December 25th 1862 reads: "'A merry Christmas' say the children, but that is no more for me." Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army, had been severely wounded with a bullet to his spine. The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow's journal. Finally, on Christmas Day of 1864, he wrote the words of the poem, "Christmas Bells." 

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!

The message of hope held within the final two stanzas is one, while Longfellow intended to reflect the outcome of the Civil War, can be applied to America and our hearts today.

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