This theme doesn't show up at all until the third section of "The Bells." From that point on, though, it really takes over. Poe explores the sounds and the feelings of fear. He uses all kinds of words to explore the different ways that people can be scared. He spends a lot of time dealing with these kinds of dark emotions, which makes sense because he's definitely one of the grandfathers of the horror genre.
"The Bells" is about the careful balance between terror and joy. The two emotions are intertwined in the poem, and they can never be fully separated.
The poem's speaker slowly draws us down into a nightmare of insanity and fear, from which we are unable to escape.
Like the other dark elements of "The Bells," death doesn't show up until late in the poem. Even then, it's just lurking in the shadows. In so many Poe poems and short stories, death is front and center, maybe the most important theme of them all. Here it's just a hint, never directly mentioned. Still, we think it's really important. The whole emotional arc of the poem moves relentlessly from happiness, harmony, and possibility to sadness, chaos, and death. Yeah, we get a little dramatic when it comes to Poe, but that's part of the fun, right?
Death is a hidden theme in this poem. It makes its presence felt everywhere, and ties things together, but it never comes out in the open.
At the end of the final section, the poem itself goes through a kind of death, collapsing into chaos, fear, and endless repetition.
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.
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.
"The Bells" is full of music. The bells ring out all kinds of tunes, and Poe uses musical language to describe them. In a way, the poem itself is almost a piece of music, since it plays with sound, repetition, and rhythm so much. It's no surprise that it's been set to music and even turned into a famous symphony (see our "Best of the Web" section to listen to some examples). Poe is using this poem, in part, to explore the connection between poetry and other kinds of art.
This poem is as much about sound as it is about meaning. Like the bells, the words of the poem evoke emotion through rhythm and sound as much as through ideas and content.
"The Bells" is a multifaceted work of art that breaks out of the standard limitations of poetry. Poe does his best to make the poem a visual, rhythmic, and sonic experience, without letting any one of those elements take over.
"The Bells" is not an obvious nature poem. It isn't about snowy woods, daffodils /wandered-lonely-cloud-daffodils/, or a nightingale. When you look again, though, you'll see that the poem is full of images from nature. Take, for example, the night, which is almost like a character in this poem, popping up in each section. Natural images like that help to structure this poem and tie it together, even if they aren't the main focus.
The poem is focused on the feeling and the experience of sound. Because of this, neither humans nor aspects of the natural world are given central roles.
As the poem changes, the meaning of the natural world changes. Things like the moon and the night, which had been comforting before, become dark and sinister