Ethan Braddock 2019

The Bells Analysis

The Bells is a poem published in 1849 by the famous poet, Edgar Allan Poe. The poem explores a basic life from beginning and happiness all the way through to the end with the pain and sorrow of death.

In the first stanza, Poe shows the idea of childhood and all of the happiness, curiosity, and wonder that comes with it. Poe starts off this stanza with, ‘hear the sledges of the bells; silver bells. What a world of merriment their melody foretells’. Stating that the bells are silver could be referring to Christmas bells which bring happiness and merriment with their melody. In this stanza, Poe uses soft sounding assonance such as an ‘i’ or an ‘e’ sound such as ‘crystalline delight’ or ‘what a world of merriment their melody foretells’, creating a soft and non-hostile feeling to the words, therefore, calming down the reader and bringing a sense of joy to the words.

For the second stanza, Poe states that the bells are made of gold which is a beautiful, rare and soft metal. The fact that Poe stated that the bells are a soft metal demonstrates that everything is still calm and happy just as the first stanza was. Poe also says ‘what a world of happiness their harmony foretells’. Referring to the sound of the bells as a ‘harmony’ represents once again that this stanza is about peace and joy and coming together. The assonance that has been used in this stanza is ‘a’, ‘o’ and ‘s’ sounds; ‘from the molten golden notes’, ‘oh from the sounding cells’, ‘what a world of happiness their harmony foretells’. These are all very calm, airy sounds giving a feeling of peace and joy to the reader. Towards the end of the second stanza, there is a line saying, ‘of the rapture that impels’; not only does rapture mean a feeling of great delight or bliss but it is also a story in the bible about the gates of heaven closing forever and hell rising up to earth. This could be some clever allusion being used not only as an adjective but also as foreshadowing for following stanzas.

The third stanza takes a turn away from the happiness and peace from the previous stanzas. Poe starts this one off with, ‘hear the alarum bells; brazen bells, what a terror now their turbulency tells’. In this stanza, the bells are alarm bells representing the fear and urgency that is continued throughout the rest of the stanza. The bells are warning everyone of a fire that has started. Poe refers to the bells as brazen and brazen metals are high in carbon meaning that they heat up faster than other metals; Poe could also be talking about the medieval torture device, the brazen bull, which was a large metal contraption, resembling a bull in which people would be locked in with a small fire lit underneath, heating up the metal and cooking those inside. To invoke the feeling of aggression from the fire, Poe used sharp assonance such as ‘a’, ‘s’ and ‘t’; ‘what a tale of terror their turbulency tells’, ‘in the startled ear of night’. It is clear that this stanza is about the ending of the life with the fear, aggression, and panic in the words that Poe has used.

For the final stanza, the bells are described as ‘iron bells’ which is a heavy and cold metal. The sound that the bells are said to have now is ‘tolling’. Due to the tragic death, the bells at the funeral aren’t happy or magical, but depressing, with each tone adding more toll onto the loved ones of the dead. Once again Poe has incorporated sharp sounding assonance into the stanza adding the aggressive and hateful feeling in the words. The middle and end of this stanza are focused on ghouls, demons, hell and the king of all of that, the devil. This is what the reference of the rapture earlier was. The dead have sunk into hell and living are mourning with no happiness in sight.

Through his use of many, sometimes complex, literary devices, Edgar Allan Poe creates these personified bells that are always with you; from the beginning all the way until the end. At first, they seem beautiful, almost magic even, but as the events begin to turn, the bells begin to seem sinister as if they were evil from the beginning.