LDS World: Healing through Jesus Christ: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow offers timely lessons in wake of tragedy
His trials were not over. Within one year of Frances’ death Longfellow learned that his oldest son, Charles, a lieutenant in the Union Army, was fighting for his life in a military hospital having been wounded by a bullet that entered beneath his shoulder and damaged his spine. Already reeling, and now flung into the depths of further unmitigated grief, Longfellow confronted all he believed. The result was his poem, written Christmas Day 1864, “The Christmas Bells,” now memorialized in the Christmas song, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
In that poem, Longfellow, in the midst of a horrific war and contemplating searing personal loss, affirmed:
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.
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."
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!
(See "Hymns," No. 214.)
Lt. Charles Longfellow did not die — one of the Lord’s tender mercies — although Longfellow had no way of knowing this when he wrote his poem.
Longfellow’s bowed but unbroken faith in Jesus Christ gave him perspective and strength to carry on. It fortified him through the trials and vicissitudes of life.
A modern-day prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Gordon B. Hinckley, counseled on ways to find comfort and to help mitigate evil in the world:
“As you go forward with your vocations, as you assume responsibilities may you continue to carry in your hearts a quiet and solemn faith, a faith that will carry you through every storm and difficulty and bring peace to your hearts," he said during a devotional to Brigham Young Univeristy alumni in 2000. I hope the lessons of the second mile, of the prodigal son, of the good Samaritan, of the Son of God, who gave his life in a great offering of Atonement, will continue to motivate you.
“May the sunlight of faith ever warm your hearts," President Hinckley continued. "May you grow in strength and capacity as the years pass. May your outreach to others be as that of the good Samaritan. May the service which you render be fruitful for good in the lives of others. May prayer be a part of your daily activity. May reading (scripture) enhance your knowledge and increase your understanding. May you be true and faithful one to another, and may the years bring to you that peace which passeth all understanding, the peace which comes of following the precepts of the Master.”
Jesus Christ enjoined his disciples to return good for evil. The gospel of Jesus Christ provides the model. It is perhaps our best defense — and best offense — against evil in the world.
Kristine Frederickson writes on issue-oriented topics that affect members of the LDS Church worldwide in her column “LDS World."
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