The Bells: Stanza 3 Analysis

In The Bells, Edgar Allen Poe transitions from joyous, tinkling bells in stanza one to the throbbing, tolling bells of the fourth stanza. The more jarring use of bells begins in stanza three where we move from gold and silver bells to bronze/brazen bells.

Bronze was a preferred metal for the clapper of carillon bells[1]. These bells were commonly used to indicate time. At this stage in the poem, bronze effectively demonstrates the passing of time, especially from a carefree state to a more alarming tone. The time of “death” approaches.

Stanza three is rife with words that denote fear, such as affright, terror, horror and shriek. Bells here signify more than a warning of terror, but could be the source of terror as well. In war times, bells were often melted down and made into ammunition[2]. Poe’s line, “how they clang, and clash and roar,” could literally be taken as the bells creating the horrors (death) he writes about, especially as it resonates in the with the use of onomatopoeia.

Stanza three employs an almost abrasive, quickened pace to the reading, heightened by onomatopoeia and alliteration[3]. It is comparable to Anthem for Doomed Youth[4], by Wilfred Owen. Here, Owen also employs the use of bells to signify passing, but laments that the only bells they hear are, “the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle”. With the analogy of bells providing ammunition, these sounds again hammer out horror wielded by the bells.

Unlike stanzas one and two, where there is merriment in tone, or the melancholy tolling of stanza four, stanza three is on the precipice between both. It holds the fervour of the first two stanzas, albeit horrific instead of joyous, and then links to death with the tolling bells in stanza four. Death/tolling bells were thought to ward off evil spirits from taking possession of the soul[5]. Here, ironically, the possibility of the bells causing death, ring in a peaceful passing as well, demonstrated in moving from loud, “loud alarum bells,”  to solemn “world of solemn thought”.

Works cited:

Poem: Stanza 3 of The Bells, by Edgar Allen Poe

[1] See “ball” and “carillon” http://www.verdin.com/info/bell-glossary.php
[2] Timeline is unsure, but mention of this act with regard to the Liberty Bell, indicates practise of melting bells for ammunition is quite old http://www.destination360.com/north-america/us/pennsylvania/philadelphia/liberty-bell
[3] Stanza III, various lines and phrases turbulency tells, desperate desire, clang, and clash and roar, palpitating air, twanging, clanging, jangling, wrangling
[4] First World War Poetry Digital Archive http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/item/3290
[6] Funeral Customs: Chapter V Bells, Mourning http://www.sacred-texts.com/etc/fcod/fcod08.htm

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