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Bells
Posted by: IanAKB (203.217.70.---)
Date: June 14, 2008 12:03PM

If I were to compile a list of famous poems grossly overrated, high on it would have to be "The Bells" by Edgar Allan Poe.

An extended, overwritten attempt to evoke the experience of listening to bells, it contains some memorable unusual words like "tininnabulation" and "monody", but is weighed down by Poe's preoccupation with the dark side of experience. Parts I and II which describe merry and happy bells are together less than half the length of Parts III and IV which describe the terror and horror of alarum bells and the frightening menace of bells tolling death. His attempt to achieve onomatopoeia by word repetitions, most notably "bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells" in each Part, can only be rated a ludicrous failure.

These thoughts led me to wonder what poems about the sounds of bells do succeed by comparison.


There's this popular nursery rhyme, which Londoners particularly can relate to, sung to a jaunty tune that slows and descends to deep bass notes in the last two lines:

“Oranges and lemons”
Say the bells of Saint Clement's.
“You owe me five farthings”
Say the bells of Saint Martin's.
“When will you pay me?”
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
“When I grow rich”
Say the bells of Shoreditch.
“When will that be?”
Say the bells of Stepney.
“I do not know”
Says the big bell of Bow.

There's a longer version, referring to many more churches, but in my opinion this short compilation contains the best lines.


On a more sophisticated level, the best poem I know evoking the sound of bells is this one by American poet Cale Young Rice (1872-1943):


Chanson of the Bells of Osenčy - Thirteenth Century

The bells of Osenčy
(Hautclčre, Doucement, Austyn)
Chant sweetly every day,
And sadly, for our sin.
The bells of Osenčy
(John, Gabriel, Marie)
Chant lowly,
      Chant slowly,
Chant wistfully and holy
Of Christ, our Paladin.

Hautclčre chants to the East
(His tongue is silvery high),
And Austyn like a priest
Sends west a weighty cry.
But Doucement set between
(Like an appeasive nun)
Chants cheerly,
      Chants clearly,
As if Christ heard her nearly,
A plea to every sky.

A plea that John takes up
(He is the evangelist)
Till Gabriel's angel cup
Pours sound to sun or mist.
And last of all Marie
(The virgin-voice of God)
Peals purely,
      Demurely,
And with a tone so surely
Divine, that all must hear.

The bells of Osenčy
(Doucement, Austyn, Hautclčre)
Pour ever day by day
Their peals on the rapt air;
And with their mellow mates
(John, Gabriel, Marie)
Tell slowly,
      Tell lowly,
Of Christ the High and Holy,
Who makes the whole world fair.


Does anyone have a different opinion, or a better example of a poem evoking bells ?

Ian

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 06/17/2008 07:19PM by IanAKB.


Re: Bells
Posted by: IanAKB (203.217.70.---)
Date: June 14, 2008 08:47PM

It's interesting that CYR departed from his rhyme scheme and wrote "hear"as the last word of the third stanza. (I'm assuming it was he who did that, and not some interfering editor when he sent the poem for publication).

He could have written "list" [= listen] or "wist" [=understand]. Probably he thought (correctly in my opinion) that "hear" has a better sound as an end word. Using that word to free that stanza end from the constraint of a rhyme that would have terminated with strong consonants is more evocative of the sound of the Marie bell belonging to heaven rather than to earth. It also leads in to the triple rhyme Hautclčre/air/fair in the last stanza.

Ian


Re: Bells
Posted by: LindaD (91.108.42.---)
Date: June 15, 2008 10:50AM

How about Idris Davies'

BELLS OF RHYMNEY

O what can you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney.

Is there hope for the future?
Cry the brown bells of Merthyr.

Who made the mineowner?
Say the black bells of Rhondda.

And who robbed the miner?
Cry the grim bells of Blaina

They will plunder willy-nilly,
Say the bells of Caerphilly.

They have fangs, they have teeth!
Shout the loud bells of Neath.

To the south things are sullen,
Say the pink bells of Brecon.

Even God is uneasy,
Say the moist bells of Swansea.

Put the vandals in court!
Cry the bells of Newport.

All would be well if-- if-- if--
Say the green bells of Cardiff.

Why so worried, sisters, why?
Sing the silver bells of Wye.

Note: These are the words as written by the Welsh poet Idris Davies in his poem Gwalia Deserta (1938) and taken from his Collected Poems, Gomerian Press, 1972. Not the Pete Seeger version for the song setting.


Re: Bells
Posted by: JohnnyBoy (24.189.158.---)
Date: June 15, 2008 09:28PM

There's a Batman graphic novel called The Order of Beasts which uses the oranges and lemons rhyme:

[www.ugo.com] />
quoting from the review: "Strangely, the case itself revolves around an old British nursery rhyme, yet it's quoted incompletely in spots, and one verse is referred to in different scenes...with different wording! In other words, the reader isn't even given access to accurate clues."

But it's still a fun read !


Re: Bells
Posted by: IanAKB (203.217.70.---)
Date: June 17, 2008 07:30PM

A lovely passing reference to bells in this favourite Australian poem:


Bullocky
by Judith Wright (1915-2000)

Beside his heavy-shouldered team,
thirsty with drought and chilled with rain,
he weathered all the striding years
till they ran widdershins in his brain:

Till the long solitary tracks
etched deeper with each lurching load
were populous before his eyes,
and fiends and angels used his road.

All the long straining journey grew
a mad apocalyptic dream,
and he old Moses, and the slaves
his suffering and stubborn team.

Then in his evening camp beneath
the half-light pillars of the trees
he filled the steepled cone of night
with shouted prayers and prophecies.

While past the campfire's crimson ring
the star-struck darkness cupped him round,
and centuries of cattle-bells
rang with their sweet uneasy sound.

Grass is across the wagon-tracks,
and plough strikes bone beneath the grass,
and vineyards cover all the slopes
where the dead teams were used to pass.

O vine, grow close upon that bone
and hold it with your rooted hand.
The prophet Moses feeds the grape,
and fruitful is the Promised Land.


In the Australian pioneering days, in the absence of made roads or railways, bullock teams were used to haul heavy loads across country to outback settlements, particularly in the State of New South Wales where Judith Wright grew up.

Ian

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 06/17/2008 07:35PM by IanAKB.


Re: Bells
Posted by: hpesoj (69.116.247.---)
Date: June 24, 2008 12:36PM

I think you may be a little harsh on Poe here. Though not one of my favorites of his, I find the aliteration in the repeating "b" sounds reminds me very much of the monotonous repition of church bells bonging on and on and on and.... I think that is the effect he was trying to achieve. It's interesting that you consider the word, "bell" as onomatopoeia. I've never thought of it as so.

My favorite "bell" poem, however is Longfellow's, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." John Calkin put the words to music several years after Longfellow wrote the poem and it has become a traditional, if not often-played, carol. The music can be heard here: [www.cyberhymnal.org] />
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

------Henry W. Longfellow

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/24/2008 12:37PM by hpesoj.


Re: Bells
Posted by: IanAKB (203.217.91.---)
Date: July 15, 2008 10:56AM

Joe, I can understand how that 'bell' poem, with its repeated positive message, could become a favourite of yours, especially if you are familiar with the tune.

It prompted me to look up the eight stanzas in Tennyson's 'In Memoriam' which begin with

    Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
    The flying cloud, the frosty light;
    The year is dying in the night;
    Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

    Ring out the old, ring in the new,
    Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
    The year is going, let him go;
    Ring out the false, ring in the true.

The eighth ends with the line 'Ring in the Christ that is to be'.

Reading those eight stanzas again after many years however, I don't think they really qualify as evoking the sounds of bells. Once past the second stanza, I find the list of things that the poet would 'ring in' or 'ring out' a bit too uneven in quality and vision. Perhaps part of the problem is that most of them are abstractions. They seem contrived rather than inspired. It’s hard to ascribe real sincerity to his invocations to 'ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes' and to 'ring the fuller minstrel in'.

By contrast, a poetic fragment which I copied into a commonplace book many years ago, sadly without recording the source or the author’s name, does for me evoke the scene and sound of English Easter bells by its combination of vivid imagery and word rhythm:

    Today the spring flickers about
    The hedge, flame-green, owl-white, heart red,
    The Easter bells turn cart-wheels in the spire,
    Man, Jack, they clap; wrong, right; quick, dead; quick, dead.

Ian

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/15/2008 04:22PM by IanAKB.


Re: Bells
Posted by: loodl2 (80.3.158.---)
Date: October 02, 2010 03:46PM

Hi there,
I know you wrote this thread 2 years ago but I was looking for the same poem myself and I HAVE FOUND IT - It's from a poem called A Dead Sparrow by Brian Giles - it was in a red poetry book we used at school called Inquiries around 1975 as follows:

A Dead Sparrow by Brian Giles

Strange how this trivial business touched,
More than you'd guess,
Seeing I'd known a viler thing.
It was in winter, when the gales
Blundered and bullied through the town:
We'd brought him in from the garden, smutched
With dirt, dragging a broken wing,
Thinking he'd mend without much fuss.
The best laid plan, you'll say, most often fails...
Of course. He died before the gales died down.

His death was a small thing, you'll say:
Yet when I held
Jack Sparrow lifeless in my hand,
I thought I almost I could have spelled
For you death's final murdering word.
It was so small a death: helay
So lightly there upon my palm,
It seemed, simply, that death, so calm,
So small, lay there as lightly as the bird:
It seemed an easy thing to understand.

Well, since the ground was frozen fast,
He fed the fire.
Dead bones and feathers, flesh and blood:
These give you images to last
A lifetime or a poem out,
And say nothing when all's been said.
Today, the spring flickers about
The hedge, flame-green, owl-white, heart-red;
The Easter bells turn cart-wheels in the spire:
Man, Jack, they clap; wrong, right; quick, dead, quick, dead.

I hope you get this message!


Re: Bells
Posted by: bauer5152 (113.23.48.---)
Date: June 07, 2011 12:32AM

Quote:
hpesoj
I think you may be a little harsh on Poe here. Though not one of my favorites of his, I find the aliteration in the repeating "b" sounds reminds me very much of the monotonous repition of church bells bonging on and on and on and.... I think that is the effect he was trying to achieve. It's interesting that you consider the word, "bell" as onomatopoeia. I've never thought of it as so.

My favorite "bell" poem, however is Longfellow's, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." John Calkin put the words to music several years after Longfellow wrote the poem and it has become a traditional, if not often-played, carol. The music can be heard here: [www.cyberhymnal.org] />
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

------Henry W. Longfellow

I also think so.

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