Christmas Bells, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

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!”


Written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1864: One year after his son was severely wounded in battle; three years after his wife burned to death in an accident.

9 comments for “Unsung

  1. Jacob M
    December 21, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Wow. This has always been one of my favorite hymns, so thank you for giving it context. What Christmas is really about.

  2. mmiles
    December 21, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    This is my husband’s favorite hymn.

  3. Jack
    December 21, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    Never let it be said that art is not to be found in plain perfectly rhymed verse.

  4. Sonny
    December 21, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    Here is a nice site that provides some additional background.

  5. Ray
    December 21, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    Thanks, Kaimi.

  6. mlu
    December 21, 2007 at 11:03 pm

    Thanks for this.

    Reading Longfellow has been one of my projects this year. He wrote before the modernist urge to challenge the authority of the past and I’ve been enjoying his traditional prosody and his desire to make music of orthodox belief.

  7. smb
    December 22, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    The first Boston LDS chapel (now turned into a CES building for student wards and Institute) is across the street from his house in Cambridge. By popular tradition, it’s the house where his wife burned to death, but I have not confirmed it. Thanks for a reminder of this lovely poem.

  8. Jonovitch
    December 22, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    I get chills and choked up in the last verse every time we sing this in church. One of my favorites, and one of the very best. Merry Christmas.


  9. dangermom
    December 23, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    We sang this today for our closing hymn, and as always I was all teary through most of it. It’s one of my very favorites.

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