The Bells

Hear the sledges with the bells—
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.
Hear the mellow wedding bells,
Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight!
From the molten-golden notes,
And all in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!
Hear the loud alarum bells—
Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavor,
Now—now to sit or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows:
Yet the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells—
Of the bells—
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!
Hear the tolling of the bells—
Iron Bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people—ah, the people—
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All alone
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone—
They are neither man nor woman—
They are neither brute nor human—
They are Ghouls:
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
A paean from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the paean of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the paean of the bells—
Of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells—
Of the bells, bells, bells—
To the sobbing of the bells;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells—
Of the bells, bells, bells:
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells—
Bells, bells, bells—
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.


  1. The noun “knell” means the stroke or ringing of a bell, but usually refers to the solemn ringing of bells during funerals or periods of morning. The “he” who does the ringing is again the king of the ghouls, underscoring the mournful, ominous mood that the poem evokes in its ending.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. A “paean” is a song of praise, thanksgiving, or triumph. However, it’s used somewhat ironically here as the person whose “merry bosom swells” is the king of the ghouls, or perhaps the king of death. So instead of being a song of true merriment, this is more like the grim reaper’s rejoicing in the face of death.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. The noun “ghoul” refers to an evil being that feeds on corpses in graveyards, but it can more broadly refer to evil spirits or phantoms. The reference to ghouls is one of the hallmarks of Poe’s style: a preoccupation with the scary, grim, and macabre. Poe’s description of the ghouls and funereal iron bells include aspects traditionally associated with gothic fiction—a morbid interest in shocking or repulsive things.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. In these two lines, Poe employs personification to develop mood in the poem. Here, the bells have “throats” and “groan.” Unlike the bright and positive moods of the first two parts of the poem, part IV is grim and dark. The groaning suggests pain or suffering.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. A “monody” is an ode, elegy, or dirge that is sung by one person alone to honor someone who has recently passed away. The term sets the mood for part IV of the poem, which is somber and dark, and suggests its subject matter: death. Iron, the material of the bells in this section, further emphasizes this effect as it is matte, heavy, and black.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. The poem relies on many types of rhyme to create its melody. End rhyme, rhyming that occurs on the last syllable of the line, and assonance, repeated vowel sounds, are used throughout. However, as the poem becomes darker and more ominous, Poe begins to rely on consonance, repeated consonant sounds, such as that found in “jangling” and “wrangling,” as well as “sinks,” “swells,” “sinking,” and “swelling.” By using consonance, the poem generates harsher, harder sounds that signal the poem’s shift in content and mood.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. In part III, Poe continues to use repetition. Repeated words in parts I and II include “tinkle” and “delight,” but here Poe repeats the word “shriek.” A “shriek” is a short, high-pitched, violent yell. This description suggests that the “brazen bells” have a panicked, uneasy sound, which is a sharp departure in tone from the previous parts of the poem.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. The adjective “brazen” describes the bells in the third part of the poem. As a material, “brazen” means “brass”; as a characteristic, it means someone or something distinguished by being disrespectfully bold or shameless. The metal of the bells has become poorer in quality, from silver to gold to brass, which further signals a shift in mood between the second and third parts of the poem from celebratory to anxious, echoing the stress associated with mature adulthood. This is no longer a tale of childhood and love, but something unpleasant, or even menacing, heralded by the sound of impudent, or even defiant, bells.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. The adjective “alarum” is the antiquated form of the word “alarm.” Poe probably relies on this form to maintain the meter of the poem. “The Bells” is largely composed of trochees, a rhythmic unit consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. Though there are many deviations from this pattern (the word “bells” usually hangs at the end of the line without an unstressed syllable to follow), it helps generate the poem’s lyrical quality.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. The noun “euphony” means a pleasing sound or the quality of being joyful to listen to. Here, Poe makes explicit that the golden bells are pleasant and bring joy to those who can hear them—so much so that he describes the euphony as a “gush,” as though it were a fluid springing from the bells.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. Poe uses parallelism, or repeated grammatical structures, to develop the overall structure of the poem. Like part I, part II begins with the speaker’s calling upon readers to imagine they are hearing bells and focuses on the sound of golden wedding bells. Notice that the substance of the bells has become more precious, from silver to gold, and the phase of life that the poem deals with has shifted from childhood to the romantic experiences of early adulthood.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. The repetition of “bells” acts as a refrain throughout the four parts of the poem. Though the poem changes in structure, each part is longer than the previous part, and each part ends with the word “bells” repeated. These lines act like a musical chorus, enhancing the lyrical elements of the poem, despite the shifts in mood.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. The noun “tintinnabulation” means a ringing or tinkling sound and is one of the many onomatopoeias threaded throughout the poem. Onomatopoeias are words in which the sound reflects the meaning, such as “hush,” “buzz,” or “tick tock.” The first two syllables of “tintinnabulation” sound like the metallic ringing noise that the poem seeks to evoke.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. Poe uses the adjective “Runic” to describe the rhyming noise of the bells, which also refers to the rhyming of the poem itself. Runes were characters used as letters in several ancient European alphabets. This descriptor suggests the universality of the sounds of the bells, that they transcend the shifts in writing and language. It’s also a pun, as “runic” can also suggest that something is a puzzle or a riddle. With this reading, Poe invites readers to ponder the meaning behind the sound of the bells and within the lines of the poem.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. A “sledge” is sleigh, such as the kind children play with in the snow. By beginning with the sound of sleigh bells, Poe develops a merry, playful mood that mimics an idyllic childhood.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor