Christmas Bells/John Gorka
Click here to listen to a low quality CD version of "Christmas Bells" by John Gorka

Posted by Larry Hughes in:
Classics Rock!


December 23, 2011




John Gorka at Passim singing Christmas Bells (Dec 2008) >

John Gorka's 1990 song "Christmas Bells," available on the Windham Hill compilation A Winter's Solstice III, is based on the poem of the same name, written on Christmas Day in 1864 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and published in February 1865.  

The poem is available in many Longfellow collections, including Longfellow: Poems and Other Writings

Brought low by the death of his wife and the wounding of his son in the Civil War, Longfellow welcomes the bells of Christmas and their message of peace on earth in the poem, but then despairs that there is no peace on earth: Hate is strong/And mocks the song/Of peace on earth, good-will to men. In the end, the bells win him over:

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's "Christmas Bells" consists of seven stanzas, including some that make specific reference to the Civil War. Gorka uses four of the stanzas in his song, which is just one of several musical arrangements of Longfellow's poem that have been done over the years.

  The story behind the writing of the poem is told in the 2009 book I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Lloyd & Karmel Newell, and illustrated by Dan Burr.

Merry Christmas!



Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Christmas Bells

I heared 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."





Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"Poems And Other Writings"

Written during the American Civil war, the poem "Christmas Bells" can be found in:

.Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Complete Poetical Works of Longfellow. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1893.

. Stevenson, Burton Egbert , ed. The Home Book of Verse for Young Folks. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915



"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" by Lloyd & Karmel Newell
Book review by Gabi Kupitz

For those lucky people who experienced the Christmas Concert with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Edward K. Herrmann live with The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and The Orchestra on Temple Square last year (December 2008) in the Salt Lake Conference Center, this title, “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day” from Lloyd and Karmel Newell, is sure to make a splendid memory treasure. For those who missed that 2008 concert, this jewel of a book is almost the next best thing to the real thing.

Dan Burr’s exquisite illustrations and text by the Newells capture the realism of an American family blessed with abundance and tested with tragedy. The poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), had it all:

celebrity during his life, a lovely and adoring wife, beautiful children, a spacious and happy home. One day there was a fire in that happy home. Henry’s wife, Fanny, died of her injuries. She was buried three days later on their eighteenth wedding anniversary. Henry, so badly injured in his attempt to save Fanny’s life, was unable to attend her funeral.

For the sake of his children, Henry carried on, but his heart was broken. To add to his grief, his eldest son, Charley, was determined to join the Union cause in the Civil War — and he did. Henry supported his son. A telegram informing Henry of Charley’s life-threatening injury arrived just before Christmas one year. Henry spent three days in Washington searching for his son. When Henry found Charley clinging to life he took his son home — home, to Cambridge, Massachusetts where Henry lovingly nursed Charley back to health. On Christmas Day, 1863, Henry, tempered by love, loss, war, and hope wrote the words to the poem that has become a hymn. First titled, “Christmas Bells,” Henry’s inspiring poem is now known as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

The Newell’s picture book has sidebars that explain the Longfellow era including “Craigie House” and “Victorian Dresses.” A page is devoted to “How the Poem Became a Song.” Two pages are devoted to the complete text of “Longfellow’s Christmas” written by David Warner. This is the text of Edward K. Herrmann’s powerful narration on the accompanying DVD.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” the book (with DVD), is sure to become a favorite Christmas treasure. I’ve always loved singing Longfellow’s hymn. I love it even more now — if, that is possible — and, it is!


PS22 Chorus with Christmas Bells (2014)
The Webby Award-winning PS22 Chorus was formed in the year 2000. It's an ever-changing group of 5th graders from a public elementary school in Staten Island, New York.

Hattie Briggs & Natalie Holmes -Christmas Bells (rehearsal) Dec 2, 2016
Hattie Briggs with Natalie Holmes made for this website a version of Christmas Bells. You can find it here.

John Gorka - Christmas Bells
Live in Eindhoven (the Netherlands) in December 2013.
The most viewed version of Chirstmas Bells on YouTube,
nearly 30,000 views.
  John Gorka - Christmas Bells
Home Video #38 (One Song Concert) December 12, 2020
The first video John recorded at home with three cameras!)


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