Poetry Friday: Carols

I’ve long known what my name means. My given name, Carol, means joyous song. It is British in origin and the female version of Charles. I was named not for these reasons but because my mother had three close friends all named Carol – a popular name, apparently for a girl baby born in the mid-to-late 1930s. Another reason might be that my maternal grandfather’s name was Charles. I’ve always enjoyed my name and am thankful I did not end up with Robyn or Penny, the other names my parents had in the running. Carol is a beautiful name.

At this time of year, we hear carols on the radio and in church. While looking for some Christmas Poetry to inspire me, I came across a well-known hymn that is actually a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poem Christmas Bells found on the Christmas-day.org website, as well as some other websites listed below, was instantaneously familiar to me. I had sung these words, known to me as a hymn, many times in church as a young girl. I had no idea the words were from a poem.

The poem is in the public domain and was is written as follows:

Christmas Bells

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!

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!

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!'

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Addendum: I decided to ammend my post because it seems to be causing a stir. The post was meant to be about my name, Carol, and about what it means, and its association with poetry. That, unfortunately, is being missed due to the sudden and strong words found near the end of Longfellow's poem. Upon further reflection, Longfellow wrote this poem during the Civil War and was, in fact, an abolitionist.  Peace was important to him. He was worried about the lack of peace in the world at Christmas time.  After rereading my post, I felt it necessary to explain myself as far as my objectives for writing it.  Please consult the poetry analysis website for more explanation, stanza by stanza, about the carol/poem Christmas Bells. 

Longfellow, like most of us, wrote in response to the events occuring in the times he lived. And, like most of us who write he was passionate and reacted to those events. The era of the Civil War was tumultuous, shocking, and dividing, BUT - and, it is a huge BUT that is being misssed by my readers, he was hopeful for peace and the joy that the bells would ring out and be heard. THIS is was should be taken from the poem. Not division, not anger, and, not advocacy for persecution or war. He didn't want that and my post was not about those stanzas in the Christmas Bells poem. Unfortunately, the civil war had not ended by the time Longfellow published this poem.

Earlier, I wrote: “It is joyous, is it not? Whether poem, hymn, or song.” My interpretation of the poem is that Longfellow’s words tell of the joy, peace, and goodwill to all men that he wishes for in the midst of war! In church, the poem was sung as a hymn, usually including only the first two or three stanzas as is common, and, perhaps for the very reason that my readers are having problems with the end of the poem. Again, it was not meant to be the focus of my post and I am saddened that it has become that.

Back to the Poetry

I did not know, however, until last night that the word carol is also a poetic term. Poetryfoundation.org defines

Carol as:

“A hymn or poem often sung by a group, with an individual taking the changing stanzas and the group taking the burden or refrain. See Robert Southwell’s “The Burning Babe”. Many traditional Christmas songs are carols, such as “I Saw Three Ships” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

The worlds of music, poetry, and words are closely intertwined. I should have not been shocked to find a favorite hymn that actually had its roots in poetry!

***This piece has been changed after I took it down this morning when I received comments focusing on the negative and heavy stanzas of Longfellow’s words. I have re-posted after re-reading it several times. As a result of adding the additional comments, I do not feel the need to remove the post. But, I hope my readers understand that it is an example of a carol and was just being used as such – not to make a political statement of any kind. But, I also do not want to be misconstrued for what I wrote. Remember the time in which the poem was written is not today but still references the need for joy for all and how joy can be more deeply felt after trying times. ***

Thanks! A very Merry Christmas to all.

Other sources:

Poets.org

https://www.thebump.com/b/carol-baby-name

JCamargo Free For Use Licensing on Pixabay.

Today is Poetry Friday. Our round-up host this week is children’s author, Buffy Silverman! Thanks for hosting, Buffy!

4 thoughts

  1. I guess I’d never heard all the verses. I didn’t realize this was a bit of a political carol/poem, referencing the Civil War. (?) Sadly, it is very apt for these times. But the hope in that last stanza! Let’s hold on tight to that!

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    1. I have reposted and will add an addendum later. I’ve read it more thoroughly and think that it really is about joy and hope, as you said. I don’t mean to be super sensitive, it’s just that a shock wave went through me after reading your comments. I never wish to offend with my writing. Also, I had referenced a Christmas Carol Music book I own and only the first two stanzas are sung. I am sure that is how it was in church as well – only the first 2-3 stanzas – leaving out the part about the war. Thanks for making me think about my post more deeply.

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  2. I had not read all the verses to Longfellow’s poem either–some strong words in the 4th and 5th stanza. I’m glad he ended with hope–which means so much today. And I’m glad you celebrate your name! Wishing you a joyful Christmas.

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    1. Thanks Buffy! Working my name into a poem was a lot of fun. I am going to leave my response there. Posting Longfellow’s poem brought some reaction I did not expect for he was against war and supposedly not racist but who really knows. I was trying to celebrate a familiar song/hymn and that’s all. Reading an interpretation of Longfellow’s poem helped me to understand his words. Thanks for your reposnse, however! I apologize for the late reply!

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