Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Bells  - 1863
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
7 stanzas, 35 lines
genre  -  poetry
my rating  - 4 out of 5 stars

I have sung this hymn at Church every December for as long as I can remember.  I didn't realize until today that there were two stanzas missing.

See if you recognize the song by those missing lines:

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!

During the American Civil War, Longfellow's oldest son Charles Appleton Longfellow joined the Union cause as a soldier without his father's blessing. Longfellow was informed by a letter dated March 14, 1863, after Charles had left. "I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer".

Charles was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church (in Virginia) during the Mine Run Campaign. Coupled with the recent loss of his wife Frances, who died as a result of an accidental fire, Longfellow was inspired to write "Christmas Bells".

It's nice to hear 'the rest of the story'.  While I really liked the hymn, and could relate to the words, it always seemed as if the 4th verse of the song came out of nowhere.  Now I understand.  And we are promised "The Wrong will fail, the Right prevail."

About the author  - 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born on February 27, 1807, to Stephen and Zilpah (Wadsworth) Longfellow.  He was the second of eight children. 

In the fall of 1822, Longfellow enrolled at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. His grandfather was a founder of the college. There, Longfellow met Nathaniel Hawthorne, who would later become his lifelong friend.

After graduating in 1825, he was offered a job as professor of modern languages at Bowdoin.  He accepted the position after traveling abroad for several years. 

On September 14, 1831, Longfellow married Mary Storer Potter, a childhood friend from Portland. In October 1835, Mary had a miscarriage about six months into her pregnancy. She did not recover and died after several weeks of illness.

In 1836, Longfellow took up a professorship at Harvard. 

In 1839, Longfellow began courting Frances "Fanny" Appleton.  On May 10, 1843, after seven years, Longfellow received a letter from Fanny Appleton agreeing to marry him. They were soon married. They had six children.

In March 1882, Longfellow went to bed with severe stomach pain. He endured the pain for several days with the help of opium before he died surrounded by family on Friday, March 24, 1882.  He is buried with both of his wives at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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