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“The Bells”, which Poe wrote towards the end of his life, explores bell sounds as symbols for four life milestones: birth, youth, adulthood, and death. The piece was sent to Sartain’s Union Magazine for publication. After Poe’s demise, it was published the next year in November 1849.
About The Poet
A writer, poet, editor, and literary critic, Edgar Allan Poe was an American. Poe is best renowned for his short stories and poems, especially his macabre and mystery-themed works. He is largely considered as a key representative of American Romanticism and American literature.
Hear the sledges with the bells— Silver bells! What a world of merriment their melody foretells! How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, In the icy air of night! While the stars that oversprinkle All the heavens, seem to twinkle With a crystalline delight; Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the tintinabulation that so musically wells From the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells— From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.
He describes many bells, the sounds they make, and the occasions for which they are used in each stanza. He mentions Christmas bells and jingle bells in the opening stanza. He represents the bells in this poem with the words “tinkling” and “jingling.” The reader gains a cheerful and jovial spirit when he utilizes these words. The poem is off to a warm and joyful start.
Hear the mellow wedding bells, Golden bells! What a world of happiness their harmony foretells! Through the balmy air of night How they ring out their delight! From the molten-golden notes, And all in tune, What a liquid ditty floats To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats On the moon! Oh, from out the sounding cells, What a gush of euphony voluminously wells! How it swells! How it dwells On the Future! how it tells Of the rapture that impels To the swinging and the ringing Of the bells, bells, bells, Of the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells— To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!
The speaker moves closer to talking about “wedding bells” in the opening sequence of stanza two. Instead of being silver, they are “golden,” which may allude to the passage of time and the intrinsic changes that accompany aging. Still inspiring, the visuals refer to “harmony” and the “balmy air of night” and speak of peace. The bells are emitting “delight” and “molten-golden sounds.” They are lovely and produce a “liquid ditty,” or song, that even “the turtle-dove” enjoys.
Hear the loud alarum bells— Brazen bells! What tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells! In the startled ear of night How they scream out their affright! Too much horrified to speak, They can only shriek, shriek, Out of tune, In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire, In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire, Leaping higher, higher, higher, With a desperate desire, And a resolute endeavor Now—now to sit or never, By the side of the pale-faced moon. Oh, the bells, bells, bells! What a tale their terror tells Of Despair! How they clang, and clash, and roar! What a horror they outpour On the bosom of the palpitating air! Yet the ear it fully knows, By the twanging, And the clanging, How the danger ebbs and flows; Yet the ear distinctly tells, In the jangling, And the wrangling. How the danger sinks and swells, By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells— Of the bells— Of the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells— In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!
These phrases keep expressing hope for the future. They are predicting the future in some way. He conveys anxiety by using the terms clanging, clashing, and screaming. He tells how the bells clatter and clang out of tune to signal an emergency to others around.
Hear the tolling of the bells— Iron bells! What a world of solemn thought their monody compels! In the silence of the night, How we shiver with affright At the melancholy menace of their tone! For every sound that floats From the rust within their throats Is a groan. And the people—ah, the people— They that dwell up in the steeple, All alone, And who tolling, tolling, tolling, In that muffled monotone, Feel a glory in so rolling On the human heart a stone— They are neither man nor woman— They are neither brute nor human— They are Ghouls: And their king it is who tolls; And he rolls, rolls, rolls, Rolls A pæan from the bells! And his merry bosom swells With the pæan of the bells! And he dances, and he yells; Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the pæan of the bells— Of the bells: Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the throbbing of the bells— Of the bells, bells, bells— To the sobbing of the bells; Keeping time, time, time, As he knells, knells, knells, In a happy Runic rhyme, To the rolling of the bells— Of the bells, bells, bells— To the tolling of the bells, Of the bells, bells, bells, bells— Bells, bells, bells— To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.
A total of forty-four lines make up the final stanza of “The Bells,” making it the longest. These opening lines have the somber sound of the “Iron bells.” Although they are less turbulent than before, the type of fear, tragedy, or loss has not improved. The sound of the bells now fills the listeners with deep terror. Anyone who hears them may tell that they are groaning out in fear and despair.
The speaker talks of “those” in the bell tower who enjoy rolling a stone over a person’s heart. They call themselves “Ghouls,” and their ruler “tolls” and “rolls, rolls, rolls” a triumphant melody from the bells. The bells are once again described as “moaning and groaning” at the poem’s conclusion. They are suffering at the hands of the bell-ringing King of the Ghouls, who enjoys the horror he is causing.