December 19, 2011

Seeking Longfellow's vision of "peace on earth, good will to men"

This is "The Raven Lunatic" Christmas column which runs in nine Indiana newspapers this week.

          We  often fail to reach the elusive—yet longed for—Peace on Earth. The history of the world is fraught with “wars and rumors of wars.” (Matthew 24:6).
          At this time of year we chatter about the abstract peace—in prayer and meditation, in holiday cards, in worship services.
          We are mindful also of the soldiers coming home from Iraq, having served our country for nearly ten years, working toward the goal of Peace on Earth.
We also send support and good thoughts to those still serving the United States of America in the military or Peace Corps, serving at home and abroad. These men and women and their families deserve our thanks and gratitude for their sacrifice toward the goal of Peace on Earth.
          Peace is not just about war.
Many people in our country lack peace in their lives, suffering from job loss, poverty, hunger, abuse and loneliness.
          More than 150 years ago, American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow expressed his thoughts about Peace on Earth in a poem called “Christmas Bells” which later became the holiday standard, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”  This is a favorite carol for me; I was totally enchanted last week when my husband was able to recite it all from memory for me.
          Longfellow’s personal world was rocked in 1861 when his wife Fanny died from burns sustained from a fire in their Massachusetts home.  Longfellow himself was burned trying to protect his wife from the flames devouring her body. Longfellow was left a widower with five children.  Two years later Longfellow learned that his oldest child, Charles Appleton Longfellow, had been seriously injured in the Civil War and faced a long recovery.
          During holiday time, Longfellow was particularly bereft. But on Christmas Day 1863 penned these beautiful words, that still resonate today in our increasingly complicated world. Poetry is best when it is read aloud; give yourself and your family a gift this year and read Longfellow’s meaningful words.
          I wish you all Peace on Earth.  Narrative © Amy McVay Abbott,
Information for this article is from “The Christmas Carol Soldier” by Robert Girard Carroll.  The Longfellow poem is in the public domain.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had roll'd along th'unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bow'd 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."

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.