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The Bells

The Bells


by Edgar Allan Poe

Stanza 1 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-2

Hear the sledges with the bells--
Silver bells!

  • The first line asks us to listen to the bells. It also tells us what they are used for and what they are made of.
  • Poe starts every section of the poem this way, with a different kind of bell every time. In this case, the bells are made of silver, and they are hanging on "sledges" (that's another word for a sleigh).
  • (Need a reminder of what sleigh bells sound like? Click here.)

Line 3

What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

  • These are definitely happy bells, and they make a cheerful sound. Their melody is filled with the promise of fun ("merriment").
  • The poem is starting out in an unusually light and happy mood for Poe. Let's see if it lasts…

Lines 4-5

How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!

  • This poem is full of repeated words, and here's the first set. The silver bells "tinkle, tinkle, tinkle" in the cold night air.
  • We think these lines give a really vivid sense of a particular moment and a specific sound. Can't you just hear those bells jingling across the snow, under the stars?

Lines 6-7

While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle

  • Now the speaker tells us about the stars that are sprinkled over the sky, which twinkle along with the bells.
  • Those rhyming words, "twinkle" and "sprinkle" are super-important for this poem. Not only do they rhyme with "tinkle," but they also sound a lot like the things they are describing. This technique, called onomatopoeia, is one of Poe's main tools in this poem.
  • Listen to all those words: tinkle, sprinkle, twinkle. Don't they all have a light, happy, cheerful sound? That's exactly the feeling this whole section is trying to create.

Line 8

With a crystalline delight;

  • We really like the phrase "crystalline delight." It just makes us smile.
  • Again, the sound is so important. Try saying it aloud. It sort of pulls your mouth into a grin, doesn't it? It would be tough to say these words in a grumpy tone of voice – they're just too clean and sparkly and bright.

Line 9

Keeping time, time, time,

  • This poem is about the sound of words, for sure, but it's also about rhythm.
  • Now the speaker reminds us that not only do these bells "tinkle, tinkle, tinkle" (line 4), they also keep "time, time, time." That repetition echoes the tinkling sound, but it also establishes a rhythm – as if the words were counting out the beat like a metronome.

Line 10

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

  • The speaker compares the rhythm of the bells to a "Runic rhyme." What exactly does that mean?
  • Well, the "rhyme" part is important, since it makes us think of happy little songs or poems (like a nursery rhyme). It also subtly reminds us of the importance of rhyming sounds in creating the rhythm and feel of this poem.
  • "Runic" is a little trickier. Runes are letters in ancient alphabets. We think the speaker uses the word here to give a hint of mystery to the rhythm of the bells.

Line 11

To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells

  • Here's the hands-down best word in the poem: "tintinnabulation." It just means the sound of bells. But you didn't really need us to tell you that, did you? You can just hear it in the sound of the word. It's full of the silvery tinkling of sleigh bells.
  • This is the ultimate in onomatopoeia – a word that sounds like the thing it's describing. This sound rises ("wells") up from the bells like music.

Lines 12-13

From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells--

  • Until now this poem has just been full of pretty descriptions of happy little bells. Now things get a little whacky.
  • The speaker repeats the word bells eight times in a row. Maybe that's just to make us think of the constant ringing sound the bells make. Couldn't he have gotten that effect with just a few repetitions, though? There's something about the number of times he says it that's maybe just a little excessive, a little crazy-sounding. Keep an eye on this guy…

Line 14

From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

  • We end this section on a happy, calm note, listening to the cheerful jingling and tinkling of the silver sleigh bells. It kind of makes us think of happy thoughts, like Christmas carols.

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