As time draws us steadily away from the bubble of light, warmth, and kindness that surround Christmas, many people are hoping for something more than just a return to cold and darkness in the months ahead.

Reassurance is extended in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Christmas Bells.”  Written in 1863, when Longfellow was 56 and reeling with grief from the tragic death of his wife and the crippling wounds sustained by his son in the American Civil War, its first six verses reflect the pain and despair of one of the darkest times in the poet’s life.  Yet, like the sun rising on the morning after the storm, its final verse speaks volumes of hope, renewal, and faith with the timeless message of peace on earth, good will to men.

Set to music, Longfellow’s poem became “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” today one of the best-known Christmas carols in the English language.

“When conflict rages, and pain, grief and loneliness overwhelm us, where is the music of hope and peace?
The answer to that question has everything to do with Christmas.”

Longfellow’s story was movingly retold by Edward Herrmann and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in this performance from the Choir’s annual Christmas concert in 2008.   Later broadcast nationwide on PBS, you can watch the performance below.

The complete text of “Christmas Bells,” including two verses not normally sung today, appears below.

Christmas Bells

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1863)

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!”