This will be my last blog for a couple of weeks because I will be taking a hiatus for the holidays. For this post, I am sharing the amazing true story of the writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and how he found hope and peace when he penned the words to the Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is an American poet best known for works like “Paul Revere’s Ride”, “The Song of Hiawatha”, and “Evangeline.” He also wrote the poem that would eventually become the lyrics for the beloved Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” However, few people know the story behind this poem and how it represented an embodiment of hope in Longfellow’s life.
Longfellow—like many others at the time—was suffering through the trials of the American Civil War. Tragedy struck Longfellow’s family when his wife, Fanny, tried to preserve some clippings of their daughter’s curls in wax, which resulted in her accidently lighting her dress on fire. Longfellow’s attempts to put out the flames were unsuccessful, and he severely burned his hands, arms, and face. Fanny later died from her burn wounds.
The Christmas after this tragedy, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” He later wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” The next Christmas he wrote, “’A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.” Nearly a year after that, another tragedy struck the family when Charles, Longfellow’s oldest son, was severely wounded in battle. Longfellow wrote nothing in his journal that Christmas.
One may wonder how Longfellow, after experiencing so much suffering and depression, found hope and happiness again. Perhaps, as he had written earlier, God had given him peace. This is seen on Christmas Day in 1864, when he wrote the poem, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” where he expressed hope through the words, “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.” Not many months after that, the Civil War ended, but Longfellow had already found peace in belief and the true spirit of Christmas.
I hope you have a Merry Christmas this year and always keep hope and “peace on earth goodwill to men.”