The speaker hears the bells ring out on Christmas Day and at first finds them sweet and inspiring. The tones ringing out from all the belfries in the land and encouraging peace on earth and goodwill to men are sublime and moving. However, he then hears the South's cannons thundering and the tones of the bells drowned out. It is like an earthquake and calls into question how peaceful the households actually are. He bows his head in sorrow and concludes that there is no peace; hate is too strong and mocks the bells. The bells ring louder, though, and express that God is alive and awake and will vanquish Wrong; peace and goodwill will prevail.