The time draws near the birth of Christ:
The moon is hid; the night is still;
The Christmas bells from hill to hill
Answer each other in the mist.
Four voices of four hamlets round,
From far and near, on mead and moor,
Swell out and fail, as if a door
Were shut between me and the sound:
Each voice four changes on the wind,
That now dilate, and now decrease,
Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace,
Peace and goodwill, to all mankind.
This year I slept and woke with pain,
I almost wish’d no more to wake,
And that my hold on life would break
Before I heard those bells again:
But they my troubled spirit rule,
For they controll’d me when a boy;
They bring me sorrow touch’d with joy,
The merry merry bells of Yule.
The celebration of Christmas, happening three times in the poem, marks the progress of its argument and Tennyson’s grief.
This first Christmas is sombre. The bells call to each other in the mist; their sound is blocked by Tennyson’s grief; their “changes” that is, their different pitch patterns, provide a melancholy repetition of goodwill.
Although he has not wanted to hear them, because they challenge his grief, making it more poignant, he is disciplined by his childhood experience of Christmas, to listen and to respond, even if he listens with some bitterness and irony.
The first Christmas after our daughter’s death, was very hard, as she had always been with us at Christmas, and she set special store by it. Like Tennyson, however, we did it, as if by rote.