“The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe is one of his more well-known poems, after masterpieces like “The Raven”, of course. “The Bells” is most often interpreted as an allegory for the seasons of life, from the beautiful silver bells of youth to the frightening iron church bells that toll old age and death.
The title sounds like it might be about bells. But, what kind of bells? School bells? Church bells? Sleigh bells?
The first and second sections deal with silver and golden bells. Both toll for happy reasons, like life and marriage. The third and fourth section describe menacing bells, ones to be fearful of. The brazen bells are frightening, and the iron bells sound like they are tolling for Death.
The narrator repeats the word “bells” over and over again, each time combining it with sounds each kind of bell would make. Silver bells tinkle and jingle; golden bells rhyme and chime; brazen bells clang and crash and roar in warning; iron bells toll and moan and groan in despair.
The narrator’s tone is upbeat and optimistic in the first two sections; in the last two, the narrator’s tone is fearful, sad, and defeated.
The major shift in the poem comes between the second and third sections, where the happy bells turn into ones of warning and sadness, from early life and marriage to aging and death.
The title is about the different kinds of bells in life, from the silvery tinkling bells of youth, to the tolling iron bells of death.
The theme of the poem is that death ultimately triumphs over life, and every person faces the same journey through each phase of bells.