Have you ever heard a sound that filled you with excitement and emotion? Have you ever listened to music that seemed to talk directly to your heart? That's the kind of experience that "The Bells" is all about. This was one of the last poems the famously spooky Edgar Allan Poe ever wrote. It was published in Sartain's Union Magazine in November of 1849, just after Poe's mysterious death in October of that year. Poe was paid $15 for his work.
"The Bells" isn't the most famous poem he ever wrote (that prize probably has to go to "The Raven"). It might, however, be the poem where he takes his musical, almost hypnotic style to its farthest extreme. It's hard to think of another Poe work so full of onomatopoetic brilliance (yeah, we just said "onomatopoetic" – we think Poe would be proud). This is Poe in all his weird glory, exploring the full range of human emotions and the power of his poetic craft.
Why Should I Care?
Poetry is partly about perfect phrases and inspiring feelings. At the bottom, though, it's all about sound. In a way, poetry is just as close to music as it is to other kinds of literature. "The Bells," in particular, is a lot closer to a song than, say, a story. Just like a song, you need to hear "The Bells" out loud. And just like a song, you don't really have to know the lyrics to get a good feel for it. You know how you can listen to a song tons of times, love the mood it creates, and have absolutely no idea what it's actually saying? That's because it's the sound that matters, not the words.
"The Bells," like a lot of Poe's work, is a crazy sonic (sound) journey. We totally recommend that you listen to a few versions of "The Bells" before reading it. Here are a few options:
- Click here to listen to famous Shakespearean actor Basil Rathbone reads the poem.
- Listen to a musical chorus sing the creepiest stanza of the poem about the iron bells and the ghouls.
- Listen to 18 non professional readings of "The Bells" from LibriVox. Some of these are okay (we kind of like #10 by JCM, #11 by JM, and #14 by LV). Others are just embarrassing (like #8 read by GC). #16 by PH even sounds like Dracula reading the poem.
Now, just sit back and experience the sound of the poem. That's more than half the journey of understanding "The Bells."