Song of the Day 12/25: John Gorka, “Christmas Bells”

Filed in National by on December 25, 2018

As John Gorka explains, sort of, to this Dutch audience in 2013, the lyrics to “Christmas Bells” began as a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem written in 1863 — on Christmas Day, in fact, just a month after his son was gravely wounded in the Civil War. His rumination on the existence of a supreme being in the face of the persistence of human evil is notable for two reasons: It’s the shortest Longfellow poem I’ve encountered, and by dozens of stanzas; and it’s been set to several different melodies over the years, and recorded by dozens of artists. For me, Gorka’s version beats all others at capturing the eternal struggle at the heart of Wadsworth’s lament. Gorka’s simple acoustic version featured prominently on Windham Hill’s third Winter Solstice collection back in 1990, and it loses none of its power in this recording from almost 25 years later. Sadly, it still rings true today.

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