Peace On Earth

By Linda Stockton 

In the week leading up to Christmas, the world is shocked, yet again, by news of horrific acts of violence and probable terrorism. In Turkey, the Russian Ambassador is assassinated, apparently in anger over Russia’s involvement in the atrocities occurring in Aleppo, Syria. In Berlin, Germany, a busy Christmas market is attacked by a man who drove a truck through a crowd, killing at least 9 and injuring 50 others. Protests against Electors who cast their votes today to confirm Donald Trump’s win in election 2016 occurred in most state capitols. The rhetoric was hate filled and divisive. It would seem that the world is in crisis, that there is nothing good or decent or worthy of praise if we listen only to the news, or read only the headlines. It can be a very depressing outlook. And, indeed, for many, this time of year can be very difficult.

In December of 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, got news that his 18-year-old son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, was being sent home from the war due to a devastating injury. He had been shot through the shoulder during the battle at the Mine Run Campaign, and the bullet narrowly missed his spine. He was fortunately spared paralysis but would require many, many months of recuperation. Less than two years earlier, Henry had lost his beloved wife Fannie when her dress caught on fire. He had tried to put the fire out with a rug, and then his own body, resulting in such severe facial burns that he was unable to attend his wife’s funeral several days later. He grew a beard to cover the physical scar, but the emotional pain and grief were such that he feared for his own sanity even years later. Henry’s dear country was divided in a bitter dispute and he watched as families and friends were separated by the bloodiest Civil War in history. Death and destruction seemed endless and inevitable and he struggled with his own despair as the widowed father of six in a world torn asunder by war. On that Christmas Day in 1863, he sat down and wrote the following poem:

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.”

Longfellow, through his own personal despair and adversity, still managed to find within himself, a small glimmer of hope. A seemingly impossible task in such a dark time. Yet, this inspirational poem, now a much loved traditional carol, came from his heartfelt desire to look to the future. To trust in the goodness of life. And to believe in the possibility of better times. To rely on God. To know that, somehow,  “The Wrong shall fail and the Right prevail.”

And, in this Christmas season, as it was then, may we too restore hope. May we rise up stronger than before…as a people, as a nation as a global community. May we strive for unity and understanding and compassion towards one another. And above all, let there be Peace on Earth and Good will to men.


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