Thursday, January 05, 2012

Negative Energy: Hate (3 of 3): Henry Wadsworth Longfellow "The Christmas Bells"

A stark contrast to Gov. Perry’s ad is Longfellow’s poem, “The Christmas Bells” (1864).  This poem details the poet’s emotional struggle with several major tragedies in his life.  Three years before, his wife died in tragically and horribly.  In trying to save her from the flames that engulfed her, Longfellow himself was permanently physically disfigured.  Later in that year, one of his sons ran off to enlist in the Union Army (U.S.) to fight in the U.S. Civil War (1861-65).  Later this son was seriously wounded in battle, much to his father’s horror.

To express his sorrow and despair, Longfellow wrote this poem (later put to music as a carol). As he listened to the bells, Longfellow relates, “And in despair, I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth’, I said”.  He goes on to say, “For hate is strong and mocks the song, of Peace on earth, good will to men.”  This is Longfellow expressing his bitterness in contrast to Christmas Day, when people celebrate joy and life.  

However Longfellow does not end the poem there.  He continues with the bells’ answer: “God is not dead, not doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail”.  Longfellow’s response is that there is a power greater than hate.  This power, God, is actively involved with the affairs of humans.  With patience and hope, we will see our wrongs corrected and the present hate overcome.  God can end the hate that people cannot.  Longfellow offers an antidote to hate, after he notes that it will always plague humans.  We do not have to give into this emotion for we can counter it with faith in God.  

Longfellow’s use of the Christian religion differs from Gov. Perry’s.  The poet relies on his religion to breakdown the differences between people.  Through God’s actions, peace and goodwill will be restored on the earth.  God’s love is the key to ending hate. Meanwhile Gov. Perry uses his religion to divide people.  He sees God as being under siege, and that we people need to fight to assist Him.  In Gov. Perry’s case, God becomes weak and unable to overcome hate.

Using Longfellow’s example, I can counter hate with other thoughts.  I do not have to be overcome by it.  For example, when hate pops into my head, I can think thoughts of gratitude.  During the week of trying not to think about hate, I decided to be grateful for central heating and indoor plumbing.  I dislike the cold, and thought that being grateful for these things would be a good antidote.  As I felt gratitude about central heating, I could feel my mind expand to include the people who invented such marvels and also those who maintain them.  As I became more grateful, I became more inclusive in the group of people to thank.

People do not start feeling hate as a primary emotion.  The first emotions can be fear, sorrow, or despair.  Senseless tragedy can lead to sorrow and unhappiness.  From these emotions comes resentment and bitterness.  This chain-link of feeling leads to hate, which is the final stop on this emotional train.  To stop it, we need to backtrack to the beginning.

Resentment has us place our despair and hurt outside of ourselves, usually on another group of people.  Bitterness purifies our selves by putting our unwanted and shadow feelings onto another group.  These two emotions encourage rigidity in people and harden them as well.  With laser-like aim, we can lay the source of our pain onto someone else.  Hate gives us a reason to eliminate the Other as a source of our pain.

However, hate can be countered through the generosity of spirit and forgiveness.  Sorrow and hurts have to be felt because through this process of feeling, wounds can be cleansed.  With hope and optimism, our wounds will be healed.  After accepting our sorrows, we will have a more flexible approach to life.  Then forgiveness will eliminate the final traces of hate in our lives.

In my own experience, eliminating hate from my thoughts was difficult, since it is a force that needs to be dealt with.  Most of the time, I do not consider hate, but it does creep up on me in unguarded moments.  What I did was to replace the idea of hate with thoughts of gratitude.  However, I do need to make sure that I process my feelings of hurt and sorrow, lest they fester into hate.

Works Used:
Anderson, Douglas, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, The Hymns and Carols of Christmas, 2010,, .

Clarkson, Frederick, “Thirty Seconds of Dominionism over Iowa”, “Talk to Action”, 7 December 2011,, .

Heath, Ian, “Discover Your Mind”, 2002,, .

---, “The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus”, Merriam-Webster: Springfield (MA), 1989.

Pressfield, Steven, “Warrior Ethos”, The Black Irish Press: New York, 2011.

Stewart, Tom, “The Story Behind ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day’”, What Saith The Scriptures?, 20 December 2001,, .

Williams, Mary Elizabeth, “Rick Perry: More disliked than Rebecca Black”,, 9 Dec. 2011,, .

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