Friday, November 18, 2016

Do Not Let Despair Dampen Your Spirit

There were a number of Christmas songs I especially liked as a boy, and as a man. One of these was “I Heard the Bels on Christmas Day”. It was heard a lot when I was a youth, but doesn’t seem as popular today, although it is as prevalent to our times as it was to the times when it was written.

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.

The music, at least the most used version, was composed by John Baptiste Calken, an English organist. The lyrics were taken from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ( a distant cousin of mine).

It seems a strange Christmas song, the music somewhat somber and the opening verses not promising much hope and joy.

I 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.

This is understandable when you realize the Longfellow’s situation when he penned the words it on Christmas Day, 1863. Longfellow had received a grim telegraph at the beginning of the month concerning his eldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow. 

Charley had defied his father’s wishes and joined the Army fighting the Civil War. He had rose to Second Lieutenant in the Massachusetts 1st Cavalry. That December telegram told Longfellow his son had been gravely wounded at the Battle of Mine Run near Chancellorsville, Virginia. It was not promising. He had been hit in the left shoulder and the bullet had traveled through his back, nicked his spine and exited under his right shoulder.  He just missed being paralyzed and his life was touch and go for a while, but he survived.

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."

For Henry Longfellow this was despair upon despair. Only a year and a half earlier, Longfellow had lost his wife. Her dress caught fire, either from coming to close to the hearth or by a dropped candle. Longfellow was napping, but immediately awoke 
and tried at first to smother the flames with a rug, and when that didn’t work he threw his own body upon her. She died from her sever injuries the next morning and Longfellow himself suffered a bad burning, bad enough he couldn’t even come to his wife’s funeral. His face was scarred and so he grew the beard we usually associate with his likeness.

So if anyone should succumb to despair on Christmas Day, when we generally are festive and hopeful, it was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

But he didn’t. He listened to the ringing church bells and he penned the final verse.

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."

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!

We live in a world full of woe and trouble and we constantly face many difficulties and tragedies, but we must remember that God has us in his hand and not let the sufferings of our life dampen our spirit.

This version below might moisten your eyes

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