This familiar Christmas song is one of my very favorites. The lyrics come directly from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow wrote it on Christmas Day in 1964, during the American Civil War. He had just received news that his son, Charles, a soldier, had been wounded. Though Charles survived his wounds, it was an especially trying moment for HWL, having tragically lost his beloved wife just two years prior. That night, Longfellow set his thoughts down in a poem.
The poem has been set to music using several different tunes. The one I grew up with and will always prefer – the 1872 melody “Waltham” by organist John Baptiste Calkin – isn’t recorded much any more. I was barely able to find anything on YouTube using it. This karaoke video, with the exception of mistakenly using “Christiandom” for the word “Christendom” is accurate to the way I remember singing and playing it on the family piano, including the replacement of the word “And” with “I” at the start of the second stanza. Also, when sung as a carol, the stanza about the war cannons is always omitted, to put the emphasis on Christmas instead of Longfellow's original anti-war intention. I for one hope this version never falls into complete disuse! I would love to hear from anyone who still sings this particularly melody in their home or church.
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!
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!’
Video by YT member DiversiTune Image at www.artlex.com From a Vatican fresco by Melozzo da Forli, c. 1980
The Cloud Messenger (Meghadūta) is a lyric poem by the respected Indian poet, Kālidāsa. The poem centers around a yaksa in exile. Longing for his beloved, waiting for him on a Himalayan mountain, he asks a cloud to take a message to her. The sights he tells the cloud it will see on its way make up most of the poem.
The idea of recording observations appeals to me. I thought The Cloud Messenger was the perfect title for a blog about the journey that we all make as we move through our days.
I'm a baby boomer who grew up dancing in the streets of Detroit during the classic Motown years, lived beside the Rocky Mountains for many years, now retired and living (and writing full time) in S. Ontario. I have one blog for rock 'n' roll oldies, and one for nature, poetry and life along the Lake.