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The Story Behind the Song: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

On Christmas Day in 1863, the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow listened to the bells from a nearby church, overwhelmed by loss.

Two years earlier, his wife had burned to death in a fire, and he had also been badly burned trying to save her. At times, his grief was so great that he feared that he would be sent to an asylum.

His son had also been wounded in the Civil War and was temporarily paralyzed. As he listened to the church bells, Longfellow wrote a poem that reflected his grief:

“In despair,” he wrote, “I bowed my head. There is no peace on earth, I said.”

But he ended the poem, which was later put to music, on a note of triumph.

    “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, goodwill to men.”


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