The following year the Civil War began. On July 9, 1861 Longfellow’s wife, Fanny, was near an open window sealing locks of her daughter’s hair, using hot sealing wax. Suddenly her dress caught fire and engulfed her with flames. Her husband, sleeping in the next room, was awaked by her screams. As he desperately tried to put out the fire and save his wife, he was severely burned on his face and hands.
Fanny died the next day. Longfellow’s severe burns would not even allow him to attend Fanny’s funeral. His white beard, which so identified with him, was one of the results of the tragedy – the burn scars on his face made shaving almost impossible. In his diary for Christmas day 1861 he wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.”
In 1862 the toll of war dead began to mount and in his diary for that year Longfellow wrote of Christmas, “A merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.”
In 1863 his son who had run away to join the Union army was severely wounded and returned home in December. There is no entry in Longfellow’s diary for that Christmas.
But on Christmas Day 1864 – at age 57 – Longfellow sat down to try to capture, if possible, the joy of the season. He began:
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.
As he came to the third stanza, he was stopped by the thought of the condition of his beloved country. The Battle of Gettysburg was not long past. Days looked dark, and he probably asked himself the question, “How can I write about peace on earth, good will to men in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother and father against son?” But he kept writing – and what did he write?
Continue reading this sermon illustration (Free with PRO)
Related Text Illustrations
Contributed by Frank Gallagher on Nov 26, 2000
We’ve all read and heard these Bible verses about the shepherds before, taught by pastors and Sunday School teachers at Christmas time. We can even hear these verses on TV each year if we watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Charlie Brown spends the show as so many people do today, looking in all ...read more
Contributed by Mark Haines on Dec 8, 2000
In 1864, one of America’s great poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote the poem which became the well-known carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. When I first heard this song, I wondered, “Why does he suddenly shift from joy at hearing the Christmas bells into such deep ...read more
Contributed by Owen Bourgaize on Dec 6, 2000
In a business magazine I read, there was an article about a company, imaginary I hope, that was planning its Christmas sales campaign. The board of directors was puzzled how they could beat their competitors, then suddenly the chairman had an idea. "We’ll have a crib," he said, getting very ...read more
Contributed by James Wilson on Dec 11, 2000
Christmas shopping, though fun, can be difficult. Did you hear about the guy that bought his wife a beautiful diamond ring for Christmas? A friend of his said, "I thought she wanted one of those sporty 4-Wheel drive ...read more