by Edgar Allan Poe
Analysis: Sound Check
A Symphony of Sounds
Poe plays all the notes he can in "The Bells," from shrill little piccolo tweets in the first section to bass drum booms at the end. Each part of the poem has its own distinct sounds, like different instruments woven together into a concert, a harmonious whole. It's amazing how close he gets to creating the feeling of a symphony in a single poem.
Still, it's a pretty weird symphony, right? The sounds are often jangly, distorted, and strange. Every sound is an echoey, distorted version of itself, and even the pretty parts sound a little weird and menacing.
Onomatopoeia Gone Wild
A big part of the sound of this poem is Poe's use of onomatopoeia. Besides being a really fun word to say aloud, onomatopoeia refers either to words that resemble in sound what they represent. For example, do you hear the hissing noise when you say the word "hiss" aloud? And the old Batman television show loved onomatopoeia: "Bam! Pow! Kaplow!" In "The Bells," Poe uses words like "jingling," "tinkling," "clash," and "clang." How many other onomatopoetic words can you pick out? (Hint: There are a ton of them.)
You might have also notice that Poe uses a lot of repetition in this poem, like all of the times when he says "bells, bells, bells…" Doesn't that kind of make you think of the repeated tolling of a bell?
Bells, Bells, Bells
And, just for fun, how about listening to the sounds of all of the kinds of bells Poe mentions in this poem?