Time to Straighten out your Longfellow

by Brad Nelson   11/24/14

It must have been difficult to make lemonade out of lemons, to find hope in the struggle of the Free States and the Slave States in the Civil War.

According to Wiki, Longfellow wrote “Christmas Bells” in response to the despair prompted by the war, his son being severely wounded fighting for the North in that war, and his wife dying in an accidental fire. That’s a heck of a trifecta for any man to endure, poet or otherwise.

We all know the Christmas song that is based upon this poem. But many of these stanzas don’t appear in that song. And you can hear the bleak cries of humanists, atheists, and Richard Dawkins in some of these verses. Life is hard. You live, grow old, pay taxes, march in the victim-of-the-week parade, and then you die. It’s just all so pointless:

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!

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!”

Right. Few on the Left (or Libertarians) would disagree with that sentiment. Nor would I. A world of such horrors is difficult to think of as God-blessed.

My favorite version of the song (“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”) is by Tex Johnson and His Six Shooters (a little more info about these guys here) on their album, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

This is a record difficult to find (although that link seems to have several available converted to CD). I digitized the record years ago and can host that one song on mp3 for you to sample here.

And, believe me, you ain’t had the Christmas warm-and-fuzzies until you’ve heard Tex and his boys sing “Wait for the Wagon” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain” (a superb rendition of this old-time classic).

But I digress.

Given the reality of the world (especially at the time of the Civil War), the closing stanza of Longfellow’s poem might well have justifiably been:

And so it seems life it doth suck
War, pain, and plague, WTF?
For Obama wins
And all the sins
No peace on earth, good-will to men!

Instead, Longfellow finishes in a flourish. He adeptly rejects nihilism. Why? Did his minute calculations regarding “reason” say to do so? Who can say? But he ended the poem with:

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.”

(By the way, Libertarians: The North (the good) did win that one.)

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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2 Responses to Time to Straighten out your Longfellow

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s a better look at the album cover.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Conceptually, this is a Christmas version of the later poem, “In Flanders Fields”. In both, we see the price of war — but also ultimately the triumph (prospective in the later poem) of good.

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