Summary: One of the great Christmas carols (and messages of Peace) comes from a man in deep pain and depression... Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


The year was 1861. That evening a mother “was sealing locks of her daughter’s hair in a packet, using hot sealing wax.”

This was one of those weird female ceremonies that they endure for the sake of “style.” I remember my sisters going through the stinking process of a “perm.” Tracy and Debbie Cox, while in high school, used to get up extra early so that they could take turns “ironing” each other’s hair… to take the curl out. I’ve seen pictures of Delores when her hair was about two feet high on her head, obviously using tons of hair spray. I knew a girl who was going to bleach her hair blonde and wound up with orange hair.

I am so glad that men… especially those real men like myself, would never resort to such ridiculous “hair-doos.”

Well, back to the story… this mother was sealing her daughters hair with sealing wax when there was some sort of accident. “Suddenly, her dress ignited and she was engulfed with fire.” Her husband heard her scream and came running in from an adjoining room. “He tried desperately to put out the fire and save his wife.” In the attempt, he also received many serious burns to his face and hands. He would recover. But, alas, his wife’s burns were fatal. The next day she slipped into a coma and died.

For three years, the man carried on at his trade…. But his family could see the terrible effect of the grief that he had locked in his mind and soul. He grew a beard, mostly because the scars made shaving almost impossible. He ceased to care for his appearance and let his hair grow long.

He was the greatest American poet, a legend in his own time… but Henry Wadsworth Longfellow knew no joy in life.

Three years later, at the age of 57, Longfellow was sitting at his desk, trying to capture the joy of the season… the joy he saw in others.

These are the words he wrote…

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.

Christmas can be a sad and lonely time for many people.

Those who are depressed… when all the world is gay and jolly

Those who are lonely…….. when the rest of the world is having family time

Those who are mourning….. when it seems that everyone else is celebrating

Those who are poor…….. when giving presents is the order of the day

Longfellow was one of those people…. Mourning, still mourning after three years.

There he sat in his office, missing his loved one, when he heard the carolers in the street. He heard the bells from the local church peeling out one of the favorite Christmas favorites.

The first verse of the song tells us that he heard them. He did not sing with them. He did not feel cheered by them. But he heard them.

In the second verse you can hear his response.

I thought how, as the day had come

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled a long thunder-broken song

Of peace on earth good will to men.

He reflected how all over the world, bells like those he was hearing, were singing out the same glorious song…. Peace on earth…. Good will to men.

But he had no peace, he felt no good will from God toward him.

The bells were a lie and the carols were a mockery of his tragic situation.

Then his thoughts took on a larger scale, he began to reflect on the situation in his world. The year was 1864. The country was living through it’s darkest day. Mourning, pain, destruction and meaningless death was all around them. In the words of their President…. They were “engaged in a great civil war, testing whether this nation, or any nation….. could long endure” such a terrible fate.

Where was joy? It was nation against nation, state against state, brother against brother, father against son. At Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Shiloh and Fredericksburg the ground was covered in blood. Young lives were wasted to gain a single inch that would be lost again within the hour. The hatred and venom spewed from both sides. There was no peace on earth…. No good will towards anyone on the other side.

With that in mind, Longfellow penned the third verse

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 toward men.”

Who knows how long he allowed himself to wallow in his own self-pity. Maybe it was days…. maybe only hours.

What would you guess is the hardest thing about training a seeing-eye dog? They are very smart dogs. Maybe it would be training them to come, or sit, or heal, or stop at a curb. Well the truth is, the hardest thing to train them to do is… LOOK UP! Dogs usually keep their eyes focused about 18 inches above the ground. They rarely look up unless they hear something.

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