The words for this American carol are based on a poem written by a young Unitarian minister in Massachusetts, Reverend Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810-1876), reportedly at the request of his friend and fellow minister, W.P. Lunt. It was first presented at his 1849 Sunday School Christmas celebration and was originally published on December 29, 1849 in a church magazine, The Christian Register. The poem was not the first Christmas poetry by Sears; he had written other Nativity lyrics and several books on religious topics. In addition, he was the editor for the Boston-based Monthly Religious Magazine from 1859 to 1871.
It came upon the midnight clear, That glorious song of old, From angels bending near the earth, To touch their harps of gold; “Peace on the earth, good will to men, From Heaven’s all gracious King.” The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing. Still through the cloven skies they come With peaceful wings unfurled, And still their heavenly music floats O’er all the weary world; Above its sad and lowly plains, They bend on hovering wing, And ever over its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing. Yet with the woes of sin and strife The world has suffered long; Beneath the angel strain have rolled Two thousand years of wrong; And man, at war with man, hears not The love-song which they bring; O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing. And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow, Look now! for glad and golden hours Come swiftly on the wing. O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing! For lo! the days are hastening on, By prophet-bards foretold, When with the ever circling years Comes round the age of gold; When peace shall over all the earth Its ancient splendors fling, And the whole world send back the song Which now the angels sing.