Tragedy struck the home of America’s most popular poet. On July 9th, 1861,
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s wife, Fanny, was near an open window sealing
locks of her daughter’s hair in a packet, using hot sealing wax. It was
thought that a spark from a match or a candle caused her dress to catch fire
and engulf her with flames. Her husband, sleeping in the next room, was
awakened by her screams. He desperately tried to put out the fire and save
his wife. He was severely burned on his face and hands.
Tragically burned, she slipped into a coma the next day and died. His
grievous burns would not even allow him to attend her funeral. He seemed to
lock the anguish within his soul. Because he continued to work at his
craft, only his family knew of his personal suffering. They could see it in
his eyes and observe his long periods of silence. His white beard, so
identified with him, was one of the results of the tragedy — the burn scars
on his face made shaving impossible.
Although already famous and a legend in his own time, he still needed the
peace that God gives to His children. On Christmas Day of 1864, just three
years following the horrible accident, he sat down to try to capture, if
possible, the joys of the season. He began:
“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.”
As he came to the third stanza, he was stopped by the thought of the
condition of his beloved country. The Civil War was raging full swing.
Earlier, the three-day battle at Gettysburg saw 50,000 casualties. Days
looked dark, and he probably asked himself the question, “How can I write
about “peace on earth, good will to men” in this war-torn country, where
brother fights against brother and father against son?” But he kept writing
— and what did he write?
“And in despair I bowed my head:
‘There is no peace on earth’, l said,
‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!”‘
It seems as if he could have been writing these words for us today!
Wadsworth then turned his thought to God, the only One who can give true and
perfect peace, both in the heart and on the earth, and continued writing:
“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.”
Thus we have the marvelous Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas
Day”. A musician, J. Baptiste Calkin, wrote the musical setting that has
helped make the carol a favorite still today.
[adapted from Lindsay Terry article]
Dr Bob Griffin
“Jesus Knows Me, This I Love!”