by Edgar Allan Poe
The Bells Theme of Happiness
Even if death and fear have their place in "The Bells," there's also a lot to smile about. After all, for the first 35 lines, things are going really well – which is really weird for a Poe poem. The whole world seems to be singing with joy and harmony. Poe is almost never cheerful, so we think it's important to point it out. Also, at the end, the ghouls feel some happiness, too, although in this case it's a much darker joy that they get from causing despair.
Questions About Happiness
- Do we see different kinds of happiness in section one and section two?
- Can you remember the sounds you heard in a particularly happy moment in your life? Or, if you were going to make a happy soundtrack for yourself, what songs would you include? Would they be similar in mood to Poe's silver and gold bells?
- What do you think is the single happiest image or sound or line in this poem? Why do you think so?
- At the end of the poem, the ghouls seem to enjoy filling people's hearts with fear. Is that the same thing as happiness, or do we need another name for that?
Chew on This
The poem makes it clear that happiness is not just a single feeling. In particular, "The Bells" makes a distinction between excitement and fun, in the sleigh-bell section, and real harmony and joy, in the wedding-bell section.
By showing us the dark happiness of the ghouls, the poem suggests that feelings of joy are not enough to make happiness. It must be combined with peace and harmony.