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I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Updated on December 11, 2014

"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep"

Powerful lyrics make "I heard the Bells on Christmas Day" a holiday must for those who believe that good triumphs over evil. Written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poem was penned after the tragic death of his wife and the wounding of his son in the Civil War. Speaking of the end of the war, he wrote "The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men."

There are two additional verses that are not included in the carol, set to music in the 1870's by an English organist, John Baptiste Calkin. His composition was titled "Waltham". This version has been recorded by many but is illustrated here by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Johnny and June Cash.

The poem was set to other tunes as well. Joseph Mainzer who wrote "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" set Wadsworth poem to music in the 1950s. It is the tune most commonly heard and has been recorded by many artists but included here is the version by Bing Crosby and Harry Belafonte.

Still another version that seems to capture the meaning of the song is the one by the Casting Crows. Well worth a listen.

The telling of the story with Ed Herrman and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir - J. Baptiste Calkin tune

This is exceptional! After you read the history, listen to this version of the song. The narration tells the story of William Henry Wadsworth's journey to the writing of the poem.

The concert where this was performed is on DVD. However, the product is not featured here because it is extremely popular and when I wanted to order one for a family member they were out of stock. It is called "Ring Christmas Bells" and I will wait till after Christmas to get a copy. It's worth the wait.

"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."

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Johnny and June Cash - "I heard the bells on Christmas Day" J. Baptiste Calkin tune

My favorite Version - Johnny and June Carter Cash

Lyrics to "I heard the bells on Christmas Day" including the two not included in the carol

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.


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."


The two stanzas that are not well known are:


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.

The music - From my Worship and Service Hymnal, 1960, First Baptist Church, Covina, California

Bing Crosby - Joseph Mainzer tune

Bing Crosby sings "I heard the Bells on Christmas Day"

Herry Belafonte "I heard the bells on Christmas Day" Joseph Mainzer tune

Herry Belafonte's version

Casting Crows - "I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day" Live. Version by the Casting Crows. This is lovely.

Casting Crows version of "I heard the Bells on Christmas Day"

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    • profile image

      boutiqueshops 6 years ago

      Oh, you chose some wonderful versions to include here! Terrific page~Love it!

    • littlelu lm profile image

      littlelu lm 6 years ago

      Great song and lens! Never really knew the history behind it. The Bing Crosby version is my favorite!

    • TheresaMarkham profile image

      TheresaMarkham 6 years ago

      Wow! I was just considering these lyrics the other day and now I know where they come from! Thanks so much for a great lens & for stopping by my Pit (the card game) lens!

    • ClassyGals profile image

      Cynthia Davis 6 years ago from Pittsburgh

      Johnny and June Cash - I heard the bells on Christmas Day is my favorite too!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Love the Bing Crosby version. I think the song needs an oldie like Bing to pull it off right. Lovely song, lovely lens.

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 6 years ago

      "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.." you caught my attention right from the start with those wonderful words. Very beautiful song and page.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Amazing, I don't think I ever really heard the words to this song before though I've heard it many times over the years. Your subtitle grabbed me immediately and held on. Thank you for sharing and impressively so! This man

    • puzzlerpaige profile image

      puzzlerpaige 6 years ago

      I love this song. It gives me chills to sing it. Didn't know about the 2 other verses.

    • profile image

      Annamadagan 6 years ago

      Good lens! I love this!

    • MisterJeremy profile image

      Jeremy 6 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      I was about to write a lens about this song. Glad I searched and found your excellent lens before I started.

    • seashell2 profile image

      seashell2 6 years ago

      Beautiful song, thanks for reminding us of it... great lens!

    • blessedmomto7 profile image

      blessedmomto7 6 years ago

      Love this! Great lens.

    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 6 years ago from Templeton, CA

      This is one of the few lenses where I have actually watched all the videos and checked out the links. You did a beautiful job. I understand the song much better now and what was in Longfellow's heart when he wrote it, and I identified with him quite a bit. Thanks for writing this. It's been a nice way to bring the Christmas season to a finish this year.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 6 years ago from Arkansas USA

      What a wonderful lens with a wonderful, true story. Great job! I really enjoyed it.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      Congrats on earning a purple star for this lens. Lovely Christmas topic and very nicely showcased!

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 6 years ago from Vermont

      Such a touching story behind the lyrics to a beautiful Christmas carol. This is the newest and a most welcome addition to Purple Star Pastiche. Congrats and thanks for suggesting this lens.

    • encouragingwords profile image

      encouragingwords 6 years ago

      I really enjoyed the Jonny and June version also. Thanks for another well designed lens.

    • TeacherSerenia profile image

      TeacherSerenia 6 years ago

      Wonderful lens. I think this one deserves an xmas blessing - sorry that its 3 weeks late.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      The Casting Crowns' version was very good.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Quite a wonderful piece - thanks for sharing.

    • shellys-space profile image

      Shelly Sellers 5 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      Love it! I have a lens close to this one.

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 5 years ago

      I had the pleasure of touring Longfellow's house in New England years ago...this is a wonderful hymn...and the history behind the songs is often so touching...as is the story behind this one. Beautiful page.

    • goo2eyes lm profile image

      goo2eyes lm 5 years ago

      the song is so melancholic. i like it. i like this lens as well as the others.

    • goo2eyes lm profile image

      goo2eyes lm 5 years ago

      the song is so melancholic. i like it. i like this lens as well as the others.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Returning with angel dust and listening to Johnny and June's version of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day....and will listen to others as well as I join in the true Christmas spirit....

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      This is one of my very favorite Christmas songs, and I love the telling of the story behind its writing. The different versions of the song deepen my love for it, because it just shows its versatility for all singers. Thank you so much for sharing this. *Blessed by a SquidAngel.*

    • Nancy S Oram profile image

      Nancy Oram 4 years ago

      Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is my 6th cousin 6 times removed, haha. Which means you and I are probably more closely related. In any case, I love the song, and this lens covers it beautifully.

    • MelanieMurphyMyer profile image

      MelanieMurphyMyer 4 years ago

      This is beautiful. Thank you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Just stopped by to post this to Twitter and it goes auto to FB.

      Merry Christmas! :)

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 4 years ago from USA

      I enjoy singing this song each year. Thank you for the lesson and music.

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 4 years ago from Kansas

      One of my favorite Christmas songs. Loved learning about the two extra verses.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      The Bells, The Bells!!!

    • James M Becher profile image

      James M Becher 3 years ago from South Florida

      Wonderful! So glad I found this. I'm featuring it on my 2 Christmas lenses Unique Christmas Music and The Meaning of Christmas. I already had put some links to other sites about the song on the 2nd one, but I prefer to link to a fellow webmaster's lens.

    • James M Becher profile image

      James M Becher 3 years ago from South Florida

      I really like the Johnny cash version.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 22 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      I like all the versions of the song, but if I only could pick one it would be June and Johnny Cash. Nice hub.

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