Forgotten Verses #8: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the most noted American poets of the mid-1800s, wrote the words to “I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day.” His first three verses are familiar:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

Our hymnals then go to what we sing as verse 4:

4. 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.”

Now that’s a dissonant transition! Or, perhaps, it would be better to say it’s no transition at all. How do you get from “A voice, a chime, a chant sublime / of peace on earth, good will to men” to the very next line being “And in despair I bowed my head”?

The answer is simple: You don’t.

You see, Longfellow wrote this lyric in 1864. He originally wrote seven verses. After his original verse 3, he wrote two verses that nobody sings today, for obvious reasons:

4. 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.

5. 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.

Now the final two verses make sense:

6. 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.”

7. 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.”


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  1. So, it’s a Civil War Christmas carol?! That is really interesting! Pretty good message there, though. And, yes, terribly anachronistic if sung today.

  2. Thank you Daniel. This was very interesting.
    Maybe in another subject you could post something about “God rest ye merry gentlemen”. It presents the Gospel to all who hear it. 🙂

  3. sure describes the times we are living in even now and the world needs to be reminded daily that God is not dead and will prevail.

  4. So many songs have a “history” that we cannot even imagine.

    Daniel, would you consider posting a topic “What is your single favorite Christmas song”? There are tons of good songs out there… many of which I am sure most of us have never heard before, and it would be a good way to be introduced to new songs/artists via your blog.

  5. There are many songs that have a “history” assicisted with them that we are not even aware of. Thanks for sharing this.

    On another note, Daniel, would you please consider adding a topic called “What is your single favorite Christmas song?” I am sure there are tons of songs out there that many of us are not be familiar with, and it would be a good way to be introduced to new songs/artists by way of your blog. Thanks.

  6. LOL, Daniel, I am still trying to figure out how your blog works. Do I have to comment to be able to receive email notifications?

  7. Sandy Patty Gave a short history of this song that was very informative prior to singing it at the Gaither Concert in Indianapolis November 30