Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

This little known Christmas carol was set to the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow(see below). It was said to be written after the poet’s desperation on the death of his wife two years earlier, and the death of his son, a soldier during the American Civil War, which he learned about on Christmas Day in 1864. The original title of the poem is “Christmas Bells”, a seemingly joyous yet sad piece which is why it’s not so popular a carol to sing during the festive season.
The poem was first set to music in 1872 by the English organist, John Baptiste Calkin who used it as a processional hymn. This version is used by Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby and Rockapella. Greg Gilpin set the poem to the music of “Waly, Waly” in 2002 which was used by several vocal artists thereafter. In 2008, Mark Hall, the lead vocalist of Casting Crowns, made his own arrangement of the song which he included in their Christmas album, Peace on Earth. This is the version I enjoyed the most.
Two verses of the original poem was not included in most of the song versions because of their reference to the Civil War. The more recent versions use only stanzas 1, 3, 6 and 7. Casting Crowns included a refrain which goes this way:

But the bells were ringing
Like a choir singing:
Does anybody hear them?
“Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men.”




video


Christmas Bells
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
 
    I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
    Their old, familiar carols play,
        And mild 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."






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