My nephew is a member of a rock-band in Los Angeles that recently took first place on the red carpet at the Hollywood Music and Media Awards for their song “When Will It End”. Nathan was home for Christmas so I had a chance to ask him how he writes music. As with most artists he responded “I don’t know.” There’s just something that stirs the heart strings, an intangible and imperceptible low-beating throb like a drum within, or an event perhaps that screams with rock-style high-decibel headlines: ‘Write Me!’
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a poet and song-writer, an artist not with brush and canvas, he wasn’t a sculptor of stone, nor were microphone, musicians and mosh-pit part of his stage performance. But he had a stage nonetheless, he most certainly could write, and my favorite Christmas carol of all time issued from a broken heart.
“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, was penned on Christmas Day, 1864.
‘Tis the season to be jolly’ it was not, and Longfellow’s survey of the landscape would have been a worthy entry in today’s New York Times debate question as to why people aren’t happier during the holidays.
Longfellow’s wife was recently dead, perished in an accidental fire. His son had been severely wounded in the Civil War. Stanzas four and five are usually omitted from hymnals, for whatever reason, but Longfellow’s despair is marked in these unsung lines:
“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.”
When will it end?
In answer to the oft-heard question of antsy passengers this time of year, “No, we’re not there yet.”