meaning of a poem : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

We are singing the text of The Bells in choir and we wanted to know why was this poem so upbeat compared to the others? Is there a certain meaning behind this poem?

-- Anonymous, January 04, 2000


It may be that this poem seems upbeat because of the way that you are singing it. I imagine that, if you are running through it rather quickly, and singing the word "bells" in the same way in the first stanza as you are singing it in the last, it probably does sound cheerful and peppy.

But look at the actual poem. Think about the meanings of the words from which it is constructed.

The first (brief) stanza talks about the "merriment" with which tinkling sleighbells look out on the future. Then, the poem moves to a slightly longer stanza that talks about the golden-toned harmony of wedding bells, which also look out onto a happy future. From there, the poem moves into a longer stanza which talks about the harsh, discordant clanging of alarm bells responding in terror to a fire in the night. (Can you imagine, in a day before decent fire-fighting equipment, or even fire insurance, being startled out of your sleep by the sound of a fire-bell, knowing that the only thing between you and disaster was a hand pump and a bucket?) And finally, the poem moves into a long, ponderous stanza about funeral bells tolling slowly, mournfully, weighing down the human heart. Yes, there is someone laughing and dancing, in that last stanza, but he is the king of the ghouls, feeding on and reveling in the grief of the human population.

Just because this poem is set to "upbeat" music does not make this a perky poem. If you are going to sing this poem, it should end with part of the chorus moaning and wailing, maybe even screaming out occasionally in grief, with the rest of the chorus singing the slow, deep, monotonos tones of the funeral bells themselves. There should be terror and uproar evident in the third stanza. The second stanza should be like a love ballad, with the chorus divided into two and the two parts singing in harmony as well as individually. Only the first stanza should remind you of childhood Christmas carols like "Jingle Bells" and "Winter Wonderland".

But that's just my opinion, and you know what they say about opinions... :-) Heck, I've never composed a bit of music in my life, so how dare I criticize someone else who's actually achieved something? Arrogance! Sheer arrogance! But it's too late now. I've already typed this, so I may as well push the "Submit" button. :-)

-- Anonymous, January 19, 2000

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