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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Frankenstein: The symbolism of St Petersburg and Archangel

In his first letter to his sister, Walton writes of his journey to Archangel from St. Petersburg [1]. Frankenstein is rich with religious metaphor and these city names are curious in light of this, referring to both an important saint and a rank of angel. It is possible to draw a parallel between this route and Walton’s roles within this metaphor as an archangel and St Peter.

Walton’s role as an archangel extends to the metaphor of Frankenstein as God and the monster as Lucifer [2]. Archangels are often regarded as the most revered of angels, God’s most powerful servants and protectors. Walton is something of a protector to Frankenstein, taking care of him in the weakness of his last days. In his final words Frankenstein dreads leaving his mission, (to kill the monster), in the hands of another [3]. Walton recalls this when facing the monster [4] and while he does not end the monster’s existence he witnesses the monster’s declaration of it’s intent to die [5]. Walton as the archangel, to Frankenstein’s God, thus witnesses the expulsion of Lucifer that is the monster.

St Peter is the guardian of the Pearly Gates, the gateway to Heaven. He therefore decides who enters Heaven. Walton listens to Frankenstein’s tale, and hears his “confession” before Frankenstein passes. Walton is taken by admiration and sorrow for Frankenstein [6], perhaps in this way redeeming the scientist of his vanity and early self-importance. Walton is also present to hear the monster’s confession, the admission of the guilt and self-loathing the monster feels [7]. Walton here parallels St Peter, standing at the gateway between life and death for these characters. He also witnesses the judgement Frankenstein and the monster have on themselves, the recognition of their faults and their resolution of it, however unsatisfying those resolutions may seem as both die (or leave to die) without a final stand off with each other.

It is also fitting that the route from St Petersburg to Archangel runs north, perhaps symbolising ascension for both sorrowful characters.

Citations

[1] “…the post road between St Petersburg and Archangel.” Page 5

[2] More info on religious metaphor here: http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=14625

[3] “Yet I cannot ask you to renounce your country and friends to fulfill this task…” Page 269

[4] “…duty of obeying the dying request of my friend in destroying his enemy…” Page 272

[5] “…I shall collect my funeral pile and consume to ashes this miserable frame…” Page 276

[6] “…untimely extinction of this glorious spirit? What can I say that will enable you to understand the depth of my sorrow?” Page 270

[7] “But it is true that I am a wretch.” Page 275