When Bells Ring Wild and Sweet

I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play

And wild and sweet

Their words repeat

Of peace on earth

Good will towards men

                   Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


brass sleigh bells

Historically, bells have been used to draw attention to a moment.

Bells marking time. The hour of the day or night. From clock tower bells clapping their routine rounds, to the hand rung bells of the town crier ringing out that it’s 12 o’clock and all’s well.

Church bells ringing with a call to worship on Sunday morning. Or to herald a wedding party as they make exit from the marriage ceremony into the sunlight with family and friends—revelers all—wishing a happy man and wife blessings as they embark on their new life as one.

There’s the dinner bell—calling everyone to the table for mealtime and fellowship.

Department 56 plum pudding with Lenox Holiday teapot and Santa glass bell

Sweet and celebratory moments have been marked by bells for centuries. Each bell sound, crafted with precision by a master craftsman, is uniquely designed to minister beauty in the tinkling, joy in the hearing, and peace—in the message of the bells.

silver bells

All is well. Be ye joyful.

But—bells have been used for more than sweet tidings. They ring wildly, too. In alarm. As warning. When the enemy approaches the village, bells ring out calling the people to flee. When the twister is on the horizon, bells ring to take shelter. Even the town crier, when sounding an alarm that all is NOT well, will ring the bell wildly with passionate vigor. The ship’s bell rings out with the watchman’s warning—storm clouds ahead. Tidal waves threaten. Danger is afoot and the crew must be warned.

This is not a peaceful bell sound.

Nor are many of the modern bells we hear daily these days. Emergency Sirens. Firehouse whistles. Smoke alarms. Burglar alarms. These are the bells of contemporary times.

San Bernadino heard them for hours in terror just a couple of weeks ago. Ringing out in alarm. Danger! Panic! Emergency! Enemies afoot!

Tragedy. Death. Mourning bells.

sleigh bells

Yet, Longfellow’s familiar and poetic words, which we often hear sung in carols of the Christmas season, tells us that both wild and sweet bell sounds repeat . . . of PEACE on earth. Good will towards men.

Shepherds heard the herald angels sing out like a peal of bells the night Jesus was born. A celebratory sound. Emmanuel—God is come and is with you. In your midst. Peace on earth. Good will toward men.

German glass ornament Natavity

And, some 30 years later, on a storm-tossed boat in the sea of Galilee . . . wild bells of alarm! A siren call of panic. Fear ringing in the ears of men who made their living on the sea. Their familiar fishing waters were threatening to overtake them like an enemy.

On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

Mark 4:35-41 NKJV


The bells rang out sweet in herald of the Savior’s birth. The shepherds ran to see Jesus in their midst—sleeping peacefully in a moment of peace and celebration.

vintage sterling silver bell ornament with holly

The bells rang out wild in alarm on the stormy sea. The disciples ran to Jesus in their midst—sleeping peacefully in a moment of great fear and alarm.

Bells will ring. Wild and sweet. Jesus, Messiah, is in the midst of them both saying—“Peace, be still.” Run to find Him there on both counts.

Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?

Meditating on these things, I am including here the full text of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem written during the American Civil War. Rarely were bells rung during those tumultuous years in our nation but for warning, mourning, and alarm. Wild bells, to be sure.

Yet, Longfellow’s meditation penned in critical times 150+ years ago, give us pause for renewed faith in peace, believing, in critical times today. Be ye blessed . . .

silver jingle bell ornament

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!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
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)

Visit Pageant Wagon Publishing this week to

Read My Book Review

on Jennifer Chiaverini’s newest historical fiction novel, Christmas Bells,

detailing the events leading up to the writing of this classic Longfellow poem.

The Writers Reverie blog signature, Kathryn Ross

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Sharing When Bells Ring Wild and Sweet this week with:

Literacy Musing Monday

Not Just Homemaking Party at Hope in Every Season

Whole Hearted Wednesdays

A Little R & R Wednesdays

Tell His Story 

Katherine’s Corner

Fellowship Fridays at Christian Mommy Blogger

Faith Filled Fridays

Essential Things Fridays

Pink Saturday at How Sweet the Sound

Spiritual Sundays

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  1. Thanks for sharing this beautiful carol. I’ve heard it so many times this year. I think I need to listen its message even more closely so I don’t miss anything! Good to read your piece on Literacy Musing Mondays.

    • Hi Leslie! Isn’t if funny how something can be around for so many years that we barely give notice to, and then in it’s due season it becomes God’s Grace in a moment of need. I needed Longfellow’s words this year–and thought others might, too.
      Blessings this Christmas week!

  2. What a beautiful and thoughtful post about bells! Kathy, you always make me stop and ponder. You always bring a touch of nostalgia to everything you write. And there is always something I take away with me – today it’s your saying, “wild and sweet.” Oh yes, indeed! Our Lord who did not and still doesn’t fit into our expectations. The One who will always be, a bit unpredictable, a bit mysterious, a bit unconventional. (Aren’t you glad?!)

    One of my favorite quotes from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”:

    “‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you’”


    Merriest Christmas to you, sweet friend, and to your whole family!


    (P.S. Have you ever seen that wonderful commercial when Hershey kisses are bells? Those just might be my favorite bells…just sayin’!! LOL!)

    • Oh Sharon! That’s one of my favorite Narnia quotes, too! So blessed to know you were blessed. I hope you had a chance to read the book review on the Pageant Wagon Publishing website, too. Christmas Bells by Longfellow and Jennifer Chiaverini have both been a joy and comfort to me this season. I wrote from the heart.

      May you and yours know God’s richest blessings this Christmas and New Year, too!! Stay safe on your mountain of snow . . .


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