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Poetry Analysis Notes


The Bells
by Edgar Allen Poe
interpreted by Kevin Bender

Hear the sledges with the bells--
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tingle, tinkle,
In the icy air of the night!
While the stars, that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping in 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 jungling and the tinkling of the bells.

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!

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 ar, 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!

Hear the tolling of the bells--
Iron bells!
What a world of slemn 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,
A paean from the bells!
And he dances and he yells;
Keeping in 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 in 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.

Poet: Edgar Allen Poe was a famous American poet who was a contemporary of Charles Dickens. His father abandoned his family very early in his life, and his mother died when he was only three. He went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Allen and was raised in the hopes of becoming a southern gentleman. He attended UVA and became skilled at art and poetry. Poe's life was influenced beyond everything else by death. His first love, Jane Stanarch, died when she was 15, and Poe went to cry at her grave. His mother died when he was three, and many people he knew had died. His writings often dealt with such themes as death, terror, madness, insanity, and psychological pains. Among other things, Edgar Allen Poe invented the detective story, became the master of suspense, and wrote some of the most terrifying stories in the world. Some of his more famous works were "The Masque of the Red Death," "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Tell Tale Heart," and "The Raven." Poe's wife, Virginia, died when Poe was 39, and following her death Poe went insane. He died, mysteriously, when he was 40 in 1849. Historians argue about whether his death was murder, a political kidnapping, death by drinking, rabies, or suicide.

Vocabulary: Sledges - sleighs
Runic - songlike
Tintinnabulation - ringing of bells
Euphony - pleasing sound
Brazen - made of brass, having a sound of brass
Expostulation - objection, complaint
Palpitating - pulsating rapidly
Monody - a poem of mourning, steady sound, music in which one instrument or voice is heard
Voluminously - with great volume, very loudly

Type of poem:

Speaker: unidentified, presumably Poe himself, but unclear

also unclear

Tone: The tone of the poem changes. In the earlier parts of the poem (I, II), the bells are described in an uplifting and calming manner. Such words as "merriment" and "crystalline delight" are used to implement this tone. However, in Part III, the tone changes. Words such as "terror" and "turbulency" and "despair" are used to create a tone of insanity, of danger, and of fright. By the final part, IV, the bells make a very low sound, and the tone becomes dark and despairing. Words such as "melancholy" and "monotone" are used to present this final tone.

"The Bells" is probably about "The Bells" in Edgar Allen Poe's life. His life was filled with multiple aspects; everything from marriages to deaths and disease. "The Bells" is likely a representation of how his life is changing for the worst, and about his fears of death.
Each part uses a different metal to describe the bells. In I, the bells are silver, in II they are gold, in III they are brass, and in IV they are iron. Each time the stanza changes, the sound of the bells becomes deeper. This is perhaps one way Poe reveals the downward spinning spiral of his life that the bells represent. He starts off by describing a happy world of silver bells and then he steadily turns the poem downward into a more dark mood by turning the sound of the bells to a flat iron sound; symbolic of death. The last stanza reveals that, more or less, death is "ringing" at Poe's door in the form of bells. Poe reveals in this stanza that death is approaching him and that his time has come. This is revealed through the use of such images as Ghouls and the King of the Ghouls ringing the bells, as well as the fear of night (night representing death) presented in IV. Also, the term Runic rhyme is frequently repeated throughout the poem. The term Runic means songlike or musical. The use of the term Runic is done almost inseparably with the descriptions of someone keeping time with the clanging of the bells. Perhaps Poe himself is keeping a steady, almost beat-like track of the bells, which represent his life. So Poe is keeping track of how much longer he has left to live. Also, frequent personification is used. This personification of the bells is used to show how "the bells" (a.k.a. his life) have made him go insane. So "The Bells" is mostly about how Poe's life has been spiraling downward towards a horrific and early death.

Structure of poem: Stanzas vary in length and lines vary in numbers of syllables. For the most part, every pair of lines seems to rhyme. Lines that do not have a corresponding rhyming line below it have a line it rhymes with between 6-10 lines further down. The poem is divided structurally into four sections labeled with Roman numerals. Each section consists of one stanza, and the sections vary in length. Each stanza ends with "Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,/ Bells, bells, bells--", and an 11-sylable line ending with "of the bells!" The poem is written in trochee, however, each line ends with an anapest (u, /, /).

Examples of poetic techniques used in the poem:

"of the bells, bells, bells, bells, / Bells, bells, bells,--" (12-13, 33-34, 67-68, 111-112) Repetition
"how they scream out their affright" (40)
"desperate desire" (47)
"clang, and crash, and roar!"
"in a happy [sort of] Runic rhyme" (10, 97, 101, 107)
"what a tale their terror tells" (52) Alliteration

Connection between the poem and the poet's life and/or times:

Most memorable quote from the poem:
"In an 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."

© Smelli Notes 2001