Study Guide

The Bells Death

By Edgar Allan Poe


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?

Questions About Death

  1. Does death have to be a bad thing? Do you feel like it is in this poem?
  2. Do you think section four is about death, a funeral, or something else?
  3. Is there a moment where the speaker addresses the theme of death directly?
  4. Is it possible that this poem describes the arc of a human life, from childhood through marriage to death? Or are we just reading way too much into this?

Chew on This

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.