Peace on Earth, Good Will To Men

By: Glenda Lofton, Ph.D.

Dec 13, 2022

Henry Longsworth Longfellow, one of the most famous and popular American poets of the 1800’s, is remembered for a variety of poems such as The Village Blacksmith, Evangeline and, Paul Revere’s Ride, but probably one of his most treasured works is the poem that became the lyrics for the popular Christmas carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. As a nine-year-old, I made my parents proud by eloquently quoting the verses for a Christmas program, but my understanding of the poem and the emotions behind it would come years later. Verses one and two of the poem, like my early experiences with Christmas, are sentimental and reassuring:


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.
I 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.


In verse three, however, Longfellow unexpectedly shifts the tone of the poem from one of hope to one of despair:


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.”


Although I was born during World War II and remembered the anxiety associated with the Korean Conflict, it was not until the early 60’s that the despair described by Longfellow became real to me--first as a classroom teacher and then as a parent. During my second year of teaching, the Cuban missile crisis dominated the headlines. At school, we stored supplies and conducted emergency drills in the event of an attack. As I looked at the 30 youngsters who depended on me for safety and security, I often felt helpless and hopeless. The removal of the missiles from Cuba brought relief, although the threat of the “Cold War” remained. In September, our son, Bret, was born. In the joy of being a new parent, life seemed back to normal, and then two months later, President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember hugging Bret and thinking, “What kind of world did we bring you into?”

In the years since then, we have experienced the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the tragedy of 9/11, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Ukraine, and our ongoing war against terrorism.

Thankfully, as I reflect on these things, I am reminded again of Longfellow’s poem which captures the essence of Christmas and the hope that sustains us, when he triumphantly declares:


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.


As we approach Christmas 2022, may the “bells of Christmas” and the Savior they proclaim drive away your despair, and fill your life with the hope, peace, and love which the world cannot give.


About Lofton: Founded in 1979, Lofton Services offers clients the best of all worlds. We provide the responsive, personal service and flexibility of a small local firm while having the technology, resources, and infrastructure to deliver the benefits of the biggest players in our industry. Lofton Staffing can deliver the right people, with the right skills, right when you need them. Contact us today

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