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Literature

"The Bells"

by Edgar Allan Poe

Characters

  • Sleigh Bells: Tinkly
  • Wedding Bells: Delighted
  • Alarum Bells: Turbulent
  • Iron Bells: Eventually really annoying

Discussion

Poe (for whom the term "poem" was named) was a master of poetry, perhaps by definition. His poem "The Bells" is about bells, and it is, as any reader will attest, very, very about them.

The poem begins gently, talking first about sleigh bells then wedding bells. Things get rather grim from there, as the discussion turns to alarm bells, iron bells, and (in the original, unexpurgated version) cow bells, barbells, bluebells, Tinker Bells, and Taco Bells.

The poem's strong repetitive nature, the bane of dramatic poetry readings, was crafted with the express purpose of miming madness. It is from this and from various notes left by Poe during and shortly after his lifetime that makes clear that the author intended the poem to appear to have been written by the poor, bell-hat-wearing S.O.B. from his short story, "The Cask of Amontillado."

The poem highlights Poe's inability to find a rhyme. Consider the rhymes from the final couplet: swells, bells, yells, time, rhyme, bells, bells, time, rhyme, bells, bells, bells, time, knells, rhyme, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells. There are many instances of rhyme repetition here, athough Poe did not come close to exhausting available rhymes (e.g., smells, kells, sells, tells, impels, wells, dells, quells, fells, jells, yells, hells, parallels, Duracels). Even Eminem does better than that.

Topics for further research

  • Why no bell peppers?
  • What's more annoying when you sing it in the car, this poem, "100 Bottles of Beer," or "it's a small world"?

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