The Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe: “The Bells” Analysis

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells” Literary Analysis


Impress your friends and neighbors with your literary smarts by showing off a deep understanding of “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe. You can find the poem at the bottom of this post.


Literary Devices in “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe

A literary analysis of “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe demonstrates the mastery of sound devices and creates a sensory extravaganza. Let us, therefore, begin our journey with examples of onomatopoeia, internal rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and consonance.

Onomatopoeia: “tinkle, tinkle, tinkle” (4), “tintinnabulation (11), “jingling and the tinkling” (14), “How they ring out their delight” (19), “To the swinging and the ringing” (31), “shriek, shriek” (42), “By the twanging / and the clanging” (58-59), “In the jangling / and the wrangling” (62-63), “the clamor and the clangor” (69)

Alliteration: “Runic rhyme,” “sounding cells” (II, 11), “What a tale of terror, now, their turbulence tells (III, 3), “frantic fire” (III, 10), “desperate desire” (III, 12), “now to sit or never” (III, 14), “What a tale their terror tells” (III, 16), “clang and clash” (18), “melancholy menace” (IV, 6), “muffled monotone” (IV, 26), “human heart” (IV, 28)

Assonance: “sledges, bells” (I, 1), “merriment their melody foretells” (I, 3), “icy air of night” (I, 5), “crystalline delight” (I, 8), “tintinnabulation” (I, 11), “jingling and the tinkling” (I, 14), “mellow wedding bells” (II, 1), “molten-golden notes” (II, 6), “liquid ditty” (II, 8) “What a gush of euphony voluminously wells” (II, 14), “pale-faced” (III, 15), “silence of the light” (IV, 4), “melancholy menace” (IV, 6), “glory…rolling” (IV, 15),

Repetition: “bells,” “keeping time, time, time / In a sort of rhunic rhyme,” “shriek, shriek,” “higher, higher, higher,” tolling, tolling, tolling,” “swells,” and many more

Rhythm and Meter: More than any other poetic device, it’s the rhythm of “The Bells” that makes it lyrical. Poe, in addition to the aforementioned sound devices, uses internal rhyme, line length, varied meter, and punctuation to create an imitative bell rhythm. It’s nigh impossible to identify a set meter in this poem (for more on meter, take a look at the meter and rhythm study guide).

Tips for Writing an Analysis

I’ve given you plenty of information to write your own Edgar Allan Poe literary analysis of “The Bells.”  Consider the following questions as you write it.

1.  Keep in mind as you write your analysis that “The Bells” is a lyric poem, a musical poem that expresses a feeling. What feeling is being expressed?

  • Hint: Poe often wrote about madness.

2.  What are the four different bells of which Poe writes?
3.  Why do you think some stanzas use more alliteration, some more assonance, some more onomatopoeia?
4.  How does Poe use sound devices to imitate the sound of bells?
5.  Why is it I feel like rapping this poem with violent hand gestures?

“The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe

I

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.

II

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!

III

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!

IV

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,
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.

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