3 October 2013 Pealing Bells After turmoil and despair, peace is never completely out of reach.
“Christmas Bells,” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, represents the destruction of peace with the onset of the American Civil War, alludes to his personal support of the North in the fight for the abolition of slavery, and testifies to Longfellow’s ultimate hope for resolution and harmony between the feuding North and South. The contrast between “peace and good will” and the reality of life can be clearly viewed in this poem written on December 25, 1914 (Christmas Day). On July 11, 1861, Henry’s wife, Fanny Appleton (of eighteen years with six children), had clipped some long curls from the head of her seven-year-old daughter, Edith. Wanting to save them in an envelope, she melted a bar of sealing wax with a candle to seal it (but somehow) the thin fabric of her dress caught on fire and she abruptly ran to Longfellow’s study for help. However, his heroic act did not completely suffice and Fanny died the next morning due to her fatal injuries. He was unable to even attend her funeral due to his own injuries and was no longer able to shave properly after his crucial burns and scarring. This incident was the major start of his pessimistic view of life in. “Grainy black-and-white photos and firsthand accounts told of a time during the First World War when soldiers left opposing trenches of the Frelinghien-Houplines sector on the Gutierrez, 2 western front and congregated in the no-man’s land between them. 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!” The war had been an accomplice to the strong feeling of grief he felt because of the loss of his beloved wife. It was during the war on that Christmas of 1862, he wrote in his journal, “A ‘Merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me,” and, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year passed after the incident and he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence, perhaps someday God will give me peace.” Because he was deeply saddened by her death, he decided to devote himself to his work as a professor at Harvard. But at the same time that he was mourning Fanny’s death, he also had to deal with his oldest son going against his personal wishes. In March 1863, Charles had joined the war effort in the Union army. However, upon his returning from the Battle of New Hope Church, he was not wound-free. He had been shot through his left shoulder. “The bullet traveled across his back, nicked his spine, and slimly exited under his right shoulder (it only missed paralyzing him) by less than an inch.” It was then, on Christmas Day, that Henry was inspired to write ”Christmas Bells”. This poem contributed to the host of Christmas Carols sung each Christmas season when he wrote it on December 25, 1864. The depth and breadth of these words were only understood within the context of Longfellow’s very own life. He captured the years of despair from the horrors of loss, the American Civil War and, beyond that, a future that would someday be filled with hope. Gutierrez, 3 During 1842, Longfellow turned to his poetic prowess in support of the abolitionist movement. He successfully published ‘Poems for Slavery’. As the end of the war came closer, he especially hoped for reconciliations between the northern and southern states to follow it. Fifteen years later in 1878, after it ended, he wrote in his journal: “I have only one desire; and that is for harmony, and a frank and honest understanding between the North and South.” Having hope, he had a strange desire to read a poem about the civil war called, “The Divine Comedy”, while constructing his wartime and Reconstruction-era poetry. One of his famous quotes, “Heights by great men reached and kept were…