Where does the good go

Jingle Bells (by guest blogger Alceste)

I am not sure if I liked this poem back in school (i.e., a scary long time ago when I first read it). From a literary perspective, it is rather mechanical and forced, and I am not even sure if I was ever interested in it enough to really think about all the verses (it was, of course, just about a bunch of bells).

But as I’ve gotten older, it’s probably the one poem I remember the most frequently (aside from the 5 or 6 lines of Terence This is Stupid Stuff that I still know). It is the progression of the verses — and the manic repetition of the bells — as Poe descends toward his own madness and death that has stuck with me. Nowadays, I hear the poem in my head being read by someone who starts off as a little mad. With each verse, the reader picks up speed and becomes even crazier and more manic as he cannot escape the sound of the bells.

With that reading in mind (and before folks start thinking Dawn Summers is not in fact the craziest person to have ever posted on this blog) [I resent that! -Ed.], here is Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells”:

The Bells

Edgar Allan Poe

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 –
From the jingling 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 ear 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 solemn 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 his merry bosom swells
With the paean of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the paean of the bells,
Of the bells –
Keeping 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 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.

Alceste, an expert rockband guitarist, lives in Jersey City and usually blogs here. I use the term usually very loosely.

7 Responses to “Jingle Bells (by guest blogger Alceste)”

  1. Dawn Summers Says:

    I’ve never seen this poem before. I definitely like that the structure of the poem literally lets you descend into the gloom of the death bells! Stupid merriment bells give way to moaning bells, for the win.

  2. Alceste Says:

    In school, this was the poem that was used to teach onomatopoeia (tintinnabulation!).

    The way the blog formats the poem (a uniform left margin) makes the poem seem a little less crazy (the left margin is usually all over the place).

    And I am not sure how I feel about “Jingle Bells” as the title of the post :)

  3. Dawn Summers Says:

    You know, now that you mention it, I think I did have to read this poem in AP English…so weird that I didnt remember that till seeing the word tintinnabulation. RIDICULOUS! Bell ringing, emeffers, BELL RINGING!

  4. Mary Says:

    I can’t imagine anyone going to school in America and not reading this poem.
    And I’m with Alceste on the “Jingle Bells” title – I was expecting Clement Moore.

  5. Alceste Says:

    Ooh, we can compare and contrast the anapests used in Twas the Night Before Christmas with those used in The Bells (which mixes the anapests with iambs).

  6. Dawn Summers Says:

    Umm…yeah…we couullddd do that…but then someone will wedgie us and stuff us in a locker! Probably Angela.

  7. Angela Says:

    Yeah, if you are using the word “anapests” and talking about compare and contrast, it’d definitely wedgie time.

    Nerd alert!!!

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