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Bells!

Talking about the use of sound in poetry, Edgar Allan Poe was the undisputed world champion of that technique. My favourite poem of his–and one that makes the short list of my favourite poems of all time–is “The Bells.” He wrote this one specifically to be read aloud, which I recommend doing to get the full effect. It’s rather long, though, so I’ll just quote the first verse (the rest is quite easy to find on the Internet):

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, bells–
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

The subsequent verses get gradually darker and grimmer, as per usual with Poe, describing wedding bells, alarm bells, and finally funeral bells. But always the language is constructed so you can hear the notes of those large percussive instruments. If you hear the poem read aloud, it’s almost like the bells themselves are speaking.

And I know it’s poetry month, not “mystery month,” but while we’re on the subject of bells, I’d like to introduce you all to my favourite murder mystery of all time: The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers. Go check it out. Genre fiction it may be, but it’s one of the most literary mysteries you’ll ever find, and it does contain a bit of important poetry. And lots of bells. Big, sinister, ominous bells of the iron persuasion. Poe’s poem and Sayers’ book go together like Heart of Darkness and “The Hollow Men.” About which more later.

Namarie,
Aldy

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One thought on “Bells!

  1. I have read, that “The bells” describes the three stages of life: child, adult, old. And in my opinion this interpretation is very convincing. I felt so inspired by this poem, that I have respectfully set it to music.

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