Archives For Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

In darkened times there’s a lot more to a “Merry Christmas” or the celebration of it, than words and actions filled with empty sentiment. The origins of these words and the goodwill it proclaims, comes from a light not lit by human imagination. Nor are they the ignorant consolations of inappropriate and intoxicated merriment.

To say them is to act in true freedom; it is an act of gratitude, unity and prayer. An act that is transformed into a ‘revolt against the disorder of the world.’ (Karl Barth)

In deep grief and reflective desolation, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote these words:

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.”

This year and those to come, may we also continue to hear and recognise, what he heard and recognised.

Merry Christmas Greek Orthodox


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s reach for Augustinian theology is interesting. It is not quite a theological treatise encased in a poem but it does present itself as more than just a rhyme.

A lot of this is figurative language and given more time for research I could/would like to unpack it further. There is a sense of tension. As if Longfellow is stretching to bring Augustine into mid 1800’s America. Longfellow either likes or dislikes Him. Sometimes appearing to be caught between both awe at Augustine’s insights on grace, and distaste for Augustine’s ‘bleak anthropology’ {B.J Gundlach, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p.123}.

Longfellow’s popularity as a poet waned after the turn of the century in the late 1800’s. By all accounts he was more than just a man who inherited his faith from a stagnating Christian culture. This is evidenced by his interest in Unitarianism, a post-enlightenment theory which rested on empiricism and held that because the Trinity is not directly mentioned in the Bible, Father, Son and Spirit is not Triune.

As an accompaniment, not many songs could beat ‘Devonshire Carol’ from War Horse, by John Tams and Barry Coope .

The Ladder of St. Augustine.

‘Saint Augustine!

Well have you said, that of our vices we can frame a ladder, if we will but tread

Beneath our feet each deed of shame!

All common things, each day’s events, that with the hour begin and end.
Our pleasures and our discontents, are rounds by which we may ascend.

The low desire, the base design that makes another’s virtues less.
The revel of the treacherous wine, and all occasions of excess.

The longing for ignoble things; the strife for triumph more than truth;
The hardening of the heart, that brings irreverence for the dreams of youth;

All thoughts of ill, all evil deeds, that have their root in thoughts of ill;
Whatever hinders or impedes. The action of the nobler will.

All these must first be trampled down, beneath our feet, if we would gain
In the bright fields of fair renown the right of eminent domain.

We have not wings, we cannot soar; but we have feet to scale and climb
By slow degrees, by more and more, the cloudy summits of our time.

The mighty pyramids of stone that wedge-like cleave the desert airs,
When nearer seen, and better known are but gigantic flights of stairs.

The distant mountains, that uprear, their solid bastions to the skies,
Are crossed by pathways, that appear, as we to higher levels rise.

The heights by great men reached and kept, were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept, toiled upward in the night.

Standing on what too long we bore, with shoulders bent and downcast eyes,
We may discern – unseen before- a path to higher destinies.

Nor deem the irrevocable past, as wholly wasted, wholly vain,
If, rising on its wrecks, at last, to something nobler we attain.’

‘The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’, 1868, p.185


Related posts: Longfellow’s Christmas

Longfellow’s Christmas

December 5, 2013 — 4 Comments

Longfellows Christmas

Advent Day 5: God’s not Dead 

I’ve hit on this idea of exploring Advent-as-we-go. I’m keen to touch on the gritty reality that lies in the historical context of the birth narrative.

Rather than the New Year, Advent is a better time to “take-stock” of purpose, intention, meaning, and direction. This is because it allows us to reflect on what is in the light of what was, and what can be.

Whilst my words may not be so significant, they are an attempt to reflect on things that are far from insignificant.

This blog is about the theological journey. It is a quest to be part of the dialogue about what it means to have a thinking faith. The kind of faith that seeks balance and understanding, in a world increasingly boxed in by narrow-minded, progressive ideologies. Things that theology, can and must, regard with suspicion; holding itself as a critique of the former, steering clear of syncretism, allegiance and/or surrender.

For those that follow the dust clouds created by the feet of Jesus, this journey can seem like a pointless venture. They would not be wrong; it can be a very difficult journey without ongoing and authentic encouragement.


May they have the strength and wisdom to continue.

May this road be a real journey of discovery, creativity, perseverance, giving and truth-telling. A time when hearts are opened to the Holy Spirit, as they find themselves being found by God. Who entered himself into the midst of human tragedy, sadness, despair, fear, and the constant struggles against nothingness; and the disorder of the world.

Truth telling in the face of direct opposition is an act of love. This true and responsible free speech can be practiced at Christmas time just as any other. It is also a great time to reflect on the movement of God in stories such as that of 19th Century American Writer, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who out of a place of deep anxiety famously gave to us these words:

‘…then rang the bells more loud and deep…”God is not dead, nor does he sleep”. The wrong shall fail the right prevail, with peace on earth good will to men’