Christmas Bells

Explicating Longfellow's "Christmas Bells" College

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a committed abolitionist who viewed slavery as an abomination and the Civil War as a just cause for the Union, as long as it resulted in an end to slavery and subsequent reconciliation between the North and South. “Christmas Bells” references the Civil War directly as a result of a personal attachment: Longfellow was stimulated to write the poem after his son was wounded during battle after enlisting against his father’s will. The legend is that Longfellow actually composed the poem on Christmas Day, 1863 although it would not be published until just a few months before the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Publication took place in a literary magazine for children titled Our Young Folks.

The speaker begins by announcing that on Christmas Day he could hear bells ringing out a tune that was a familiar holiday carol expressing goodwill to men and hoping for peace on earth. The narrator is really the only official character in the poem, although he remains unnamed and unidentified. One may assume he is intended to represent the thoughts and feelings of the poet, but the anxiety that he is feeling certainly seems to imply a greater universality. Not to be confused with...

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