the Bells

It’s ironical, perhaps, that Poe managed to sell his poem ‘The Bells’, but that it wasn’t published until after his death in 1849. The poem has been disparaged through the years as simplistic, repetitive and as an aggravating example of onomatopoeia–that is, words formed from the sounds they define.   However, there have been a lot of convincing arguments made that there’s an awful lot going on in this poem. And considering the state of Poe’s material destitution in the last year of this life, ‘The Bells’ seems a natural rumination for Poe: life starts out in hopeful idealism, only to end in ruin and death. If you read this, make sure to read it aloud. 

I

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 tintinnabulation that so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells –

From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

 

II 

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! 

 

III 

Hear the loud alarum bells –

Brazen bells!

What a 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 clanging of the bells!

  

IV

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 paean from the bells!

And his merry bosom swells

With the paean of the bells!

And he dances, and he yells;

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the paean 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. 

The image comes from the title page an 1912 edition of Poe’s poems called, The Bells and Other Poems, illustrated by Edmund Dulac.

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