The Bells

Bells. Edmund Dulac. 1912.


The Bells

Edgar Allan Poe, 1849


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 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 pæan from the bells;

     And his merry bosom swells

With the pæan from the bells,

     And he dances, and he yells:

     Keeping time, time, time,

     In a sort of Rhunic rhyme,

To the pæan of the bells,

     Of the bells:

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Rhunic 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 Rhunic 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.


This poem by Poe, published after his death, is one of my own favorites by the American poet. The lines are full of repetition, onomatopoeia, and alliteration that contribute to the masterful rhythm.

3 thoughts on “The Bells”

  1. What a perfect picture for this poem! The blue and gray tones are accurately equivalent to the poem’s haunting chants.

    “Bells” is a beautiful poem, yet like all of Poe’s works, it is just as ethereal as it is lovely. And yes, you’re right, the alliteration is practically the most important characteristic of the poem.

    1. Edmund Dulac illustrated a volume of Poe’s poetry, and he did several illustrations for “The Bells.” You might want to look them up.

  2. I saw the illustrations for The Bells like you said and really loved his Pre-Raphealite sort of style, and although I dont usually like dark paintings, his are dark in a beautiful haunting way … Much like Poe’s words…

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