In 1863 poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the words of a hymn still sung today.
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men
It’s a beautiful refrain and one of my favorite Christmas songs—in part because of the context in which Longfellow wrote it.
In 1863 the United States was in the throes of the Civil War. Longfellow had been widowed for two years after his wife died when her dress caught fire. And on Nov. 27, 1863, Longfellow’s son was severely wounded by a Confederate bullet in a Virginia clash.
Four weeks later, as Longfellow nursed his son back to health, he heard the bells on Christmas day and wrote the words we know so well. In this year of so much chaos and suffering, it’s easy to relate to the anguish Longfellow felt:
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
From impeachment and a contentious election to a global pandemic and racial unrest, peace has been in rare supply this year—even here in Alachua County.
I appreciate how honest Longfellow was about the challenges facing him and 1863 America. But I also appreciate how he came around to a hopeful outlook:
Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does he sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men
We here at Mainstreet Daily News are a hopeful bunch. We’d like to think that came through in our community reporting this year—and that we brought just a little goodwill to your lives.
Thank you for welcoming us into the community in 2020. And from our Mainstreet family to yours: Merry Christmas.