The Story Behind - I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day


There is a story painted with deep-seated pain and long-cherished hope behind “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day’. Before we get into the details of dynamicity and dissonance from the poet’s perspective, nicely captured in the poem, let us travel back to the events that preceded the Birth of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”.

Travelling down the History Lane

It was March of 1863 when a boy namely Charles Appleton Longfellow boarded a train for Washington, D. C. His family, which used to live on Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was completely unaware of the 18-year’s old departure.

Charles was born to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a celebrated poet and literary critic, and Fannie Elizabeth Appleton. He was the eldest child and had five siblings. The teenager wanted to join President Abraham Lincoln’s Union Army that got entangled in the Civil War. Charles travelled over 400 miles to fulfill his dream.

On his arrival in Washington D.C., Charles sought to register himself as a private with the 1st Massachusetts Artillery. However, that required permission from Charles’ father and he gave his consent after receiving a letter from Captain W. H. McCartney, commander of Battery A.

Charles, with his stand-out skills, impressed his seniors and fellow soldiers. Soon he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. Charles was sent to his home for recovery from ‘camp fever’. As a result, he could not fight in the Battle of Gettysburg and could only rejoin army on August 15, 1863.

On December 1 of the same year, Charles’ father received a telegram stating that his elder son had suffered severe injuries. Four days earlier in a skirmish during a battle, Charley was shot through his left shoulder and the bullet exited under his right shoulder blade. He escaped paralysis by less than an inch.

A Heart-Touching Poem Was Born

It was Friday, December 25, 1863 when Charley’s father, a widowed man with grief and gloominess all around, penned a poem. The poet poured his heart out to convey his feelings of changes and conflict as observed by his careful eyes on the eve of Christmas Celebration.

The song, though written more than 150 years ago, still holds true for every war fought at any corner of the world. During war, hate is more powerful than love and binds people blindly and mocks the song of “Peace on Earth”. However, the poet does not allow himself to sink into despair, depression and destruction that are visible all around; rather he thinks the bells on Christmas Day sing a renewed hope for peace restored among men

The poem carries, cries and conveys an eternal truth and significance. War brings injustice, violence and dooms upon us. It mocks the effort of restoring faith, peace and hope but fails to stub the flame of optimism.

The poem sows the seeds of hope in every depressed soul sinking into the abyss of despair by reiterating that love and peace will triumph and prevail.

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