Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I think it’s sort of amazing how things fall into place in our school sometimes.

Late this fall I still hadn’t chosen the Christmas hymn we would study in December. I’m usually more prepared, but I hadn’t had time to study and research as I have had in the past. Normally I would plan ahead, we would listen to the hymn, use it for some of our December copy work and learn the story behind the hymn.

I thought some of you would enjoy hearing the story of our Christmas hymn this year.

Earlier this school year, I had decided that we would study Henry Wadsworth Longfellow next term. I began to look at what we would read of his work, and kept my eyes open for interesting things about his life.

In early November, I introduced my daughter to his epic poem Evangeline. After looking around online, I found that things were indeed falling into place, as this poem is written in dactylic hexameter, which she has recently been learning about. I love it when that happens. Since I think that beautiful books make quite a difference in our reading, I went up to our giant (the store boasts 4,000 sq feet) used and vintage book store. Sure enough, on the shelf were both of these books. For a VERY good price.



Then, I came across this beautiful poem about a week later:

My Redeemer and my Lord!

I beseech Thee, I entreat Thee,

Guide me in each act and word,

That hereafter I may meet Thee,

Watching, waiting, hoping, yearning,

With my lamp well trimmed and burning!



With these bleeding

Wounds upon Thy Hands and Side,-

For all who have lived and erred,

Thou hast suffered, Thou hast died,

Scourged and mocked and crucified,

And in the grave hast Thou been buried!


If my feeble prayer can reach Thee,

O, my Saviour! I beseech Thee,

Even as Thou hast died for me,

More sincerely

Let me follow where Thou leadest!

Let me, bleeding as Thou bleedest,

Die, if dying I may give

Life to one who asks to live,-

And more nearly

Dying thus, resemble Thee!


-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

But still no Christmas hymn yet. At this point I didn’t relate my Longfellow search to my hymn search.

And then I came across this on the internet. The description of Longfellow’s devastation over losing his wife grieved me. The words are stunning in their simplicity, and I can imagine his pain:

“…at times he feared he would be sent to an asylum on account of his grief.”

After his wife’s death, his son went to serve in the army and was terribly injured during the Civil War. While he was waiting to hear news of his son’s condition, Longfellow wrote the words to “I heard the bells on Christmas Day”. What a beautiful, rich, Christmas hymn.

So we began copying and listening. It had meaning to us, for sure. But then our family changed quite a bit in December with the arrival of some new little people into our home.  We have been planning to foster-to-adopt this year, so we knew they were coming, we just didn’t know when. The sadness and loss they have (and are) experiencing has given the words to this old hymn a new significance. It has become precious to us.

This song makes us both sad over loss and pain, but comforted because “God is not dead, nor does He sleep”.

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, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

2 thoughts on “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    1. Thanks Amy! They had a huge section of classics that I only found this year. It’s pretty amazing. (And I’m pretty dumb for not finding it sooner!)


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