"The Bells" is a poem by the American author Edgar Allan Poe. Published posthumously in the November 1849 issue of Sartain's Union Magazine, it was one of the last poems written by Poe. It is known for its heavy use of onomatopoeia and for the musical rhythm with the echoing refrain of the word "bells."
The poem consists of four stanzas, each describing the sound and emotional impact of a different type of bell. Beginning with the joyous jingling of silver sleigh bells, the stanzas grow progressively longer and more serious, leading to the mournful knell of the iron church bells. The changing mood is often thought to represent stages of life, from the lightheartedness of youth to the melancholy of old age. Alternatively, the progression is interpreted as an emotional shift, a descent into depression or madness, possibly associated with the loss of a lover.
Poe began writing "The Bells" in May 1848 at the suggestion of a friend, Marie Louise Shew. Prompted by her two lines "little silver bells" and "heavy iron bells," the original poem consisted of just two short stanzas. Poe sold a slightly longer version to Union Magazine then, after further revisions, submitted the final version in the summer of 1849.
There have been many songs and classical works based on the poem, the best known of which is the choral symphony The Bells, Op. 35, by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1913).
Silver sleigh bells jingle a joyful melody, tinkling merrily as stars twinkle in the clear winter's night. Golden wedding bells chime in mellow harmony in the balmy night, foretelling a world of happiness. But the clanging of the brazen alarm bells is a shrieking noise, filling the night with terror and anger. Finally, the knell of the iron church bells is a muffled monotone in the silence of the night. Rang by the king of Ghouls who delights in the misery they bring, the tolling bells make those who listen shiver with fright.
- Sound file of public domain audiobook of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Bells" from LibriVox
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