Tuesday 20 December 2011

Each Morning Sees Some Task Begin

…each evening sees its close

Something attempted, something done,
has earned a night's repose

I have always been fond of the poetry of Longfellow [Hiawatha, The Village Blacksmith etc.] My father came from a generation that learned such verses by heart, and as a child I loved listening to him recite them to me [check one out here]. Last week I discovered more about HWL’s life, through Mary’s blog, Neat and Tidy.


This man whose words brought joy to so many suffered much personal tragedy. His first wife Mary, died following a miscarriage, and his second, Fanny after a ghastly accident. Melting sealing wax, she set fire to her own gauzy clothing and was enveloped in flames. Despite Henry’s efforts to save her, she died the next day. In his futile efforts to put the fire out, Longfellow burned his hands and face. To hide his facial scars, he eventually grew the beard that gave him the sage, avuncular look reproduced in so many later paintings and photographs. The Civil War began in 1861 [the same year as Fanny's death, and in 1863]

The first Christmas after Fanny's death, Longfellow wrote in his journal "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays."

A year after the incident, he wrote, "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace."

Longfellow's journal entry for December 25th 1862 reads: "A merry Christmas' say the children, but that is no more for me."


In 1863 his son Charley ran off to join the fighting. That Christmas too was silent in Longfellow's journal. But on Christmas Day of 1864, God helped him find his peace. He wrote this poem

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!

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!


1 comment:

  1. How sad and yet he clearly loved and was loved which is the biggest gift of all.

    Sft x


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