“A Voice, a Chime, a Chant Sublime”

If you don’t have presents to wrap/buy or lights to string right now, I thought I’d show you this little poem someone wrote about Christmas many years ago. It’s “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It’s been a favorite of mine for a while just because the words are so beautiful (the title of this post, for example), but it means even more when you know where it comes from.

Despite being a poem about Christmas, “Christmas Bells” was born out of great sorrow. It began in 1861, with the beginning of the Civil War. That same year, Longfellow’s wife Fanny died after her dress caught on fire. Not only did she die, but Longfellow also suffered terrible burns on his arms and face as he tried to put out the flames. Two years later, he learned that his son Charles, a lieutenant in the Union army, had been shot. Charles survived, but his spinal column was severely injured.

Finally, in 1864, things began to look up. The war was nearly over, President Lincoln was about to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” and on December 25, 1864, Longfellow penned this famous poem.

I suppose what I love about the poem is that it captures both a very deep, very real sorrow, but at the same time, a triumphant sort of joy. “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.” What could be better than that?

I’ll let Mr. Longfellow take the stage now:

“Christmas Bells”

by 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!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of 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!

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!”

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.”

As I’m sure you know, this poem has been adapted into a Christmas carol by many, many artists, but if you ask me, the best version by far is this one by Casting Crowns:

Merry Christmas, all you lovely geeks.


9 thoughts on ““A Voice, a Chime, a Chant Sublime”

    1. I’ve only heard one other version of that song, but Casting Crowns’s HAS to be the best! I look forward to it every year.

      Glad you liked reading about the history of the poem. Very sad, but it gives the poem even more weight and depth. Thanks, and Happy New Year too!


  1. I’m so glad you touched on HWL’s life and the circumstances surrounding the writing of this poem. I’ve always thought that that’s what makes “Christmas Bells” so much more beautiful and deep and meaningful. Merry Christmas!!


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