The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe

Lesson Plans by Kristy Littlehale

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The Bells Lesson Plans

“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 eeriness of the subject matter of the poem becomes evident when the reader realizes that this poem was submitted for publication by Poe in 1848, and was published shortly after his death in 1849. The poem deals with themes like fear of death, and the inevitable progression of the life cycle from youth to death.

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Brief Synopsis of “The Bells”

The poem is split up into four parts. In the first section, the speaker describes the merry and beautiful tinkling sounds of silver bells. He says that they foretell a world of merriment, and they have a distinct melody. The silver bells are like stars in the sky. In the second section, the speaker describes golden wedding bells. These bells, too, ring out a golden harmony that foretells of a beautiful future for the married couple. The third section changes its tone, focusing on brazen alarm bells. They scream out in terror, and they clang and clash rather than provide a musical quality like the previous sets of bells. There is a definite feeling of despair and fear at the angry sounds of these bells. The fourth section describes tolling iron bells. These bells are menacing and they bring to mind images of ghouls and their wicked king. The iron bells sob, moan, and groan, much like the bells of a churchyard during a funeral.

Essential Questions for “The Bells”

  1. What is the natural cycle of life?
  2. Why are people afraid of growing old and dying?
  3. What are some ways that onomatopoeia can highlight emotions in poetry?
  4. How can the cycle of life be turned into a an allegory?

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