Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “The Bells” (Text-08), Richmond Examiner proof sheets, about September 1849


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The Bells

I

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.

II

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!

III

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 endeavour

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;

Yes, 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!

IV

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,

Rolls

A Pæan from the bells!

And his merry bosom swells

With the Pæan of the bells!

And he dances and he yells;

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the Pæan 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.

 


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Notes:

In his bibliographical notes, Mabbott describes the present text as dubious, commenting that “the anomalous character of that document (which nobody can now find) is notorius” (1:433). It is interesting that Whitty’s text adds a “u” to “endeavour” but removes the “u” from “clamour” and “clangour,” which seems inconsistent. The indentation of the final stanza is also notably different from other printings. Another curious detail is the use of “meance” rather than “meaning” in line 75. Mabbott notes that this word was originally given as “meaning” in the manuscript, but changed to “meance” in ink, then later changed back to “meaning” in pencil but ignored by the typesetters (Poems, 1:439). This may indicate an error in Whitty’s copy, or, if Whitty’s transcription is accurate, Poe was still vacillating over which word to use here.

 

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[S:0 - REPS, 1849 (Whitty, 1911)] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Poems - The Bells (Text-08)