A Favourite Poem: ‘The Bells’ by Edgar Allan Poe

‘The Bells’ is a magnificent poem that is best read aloud.

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‘The Bells’ is a poem that Poe wrote in the final year of his life, as he battled writer’s block that seemed to have developed with his grief for his wife, who died from tuberculosis. It is highly reflective of the way in which he perceived the changes that happen in one’s life – as one gets older, the ringing of the bells is less about happiness and increasingly about grief and fear. From courtship, to marriage, then grief and despair, and finally one’s own death, each stanza grows darker and longer than the one preceding it. The haunting tone of the final stanzas is powerful and chilling, leaving the reader with a strong sense of impending doom and terror.

For me, this poem also reflects how happy times seem to fly past quickly, while periods of darkness and sorrow seem to linger and to obscure the light of those happier memories and thoughts.

It’s a beautiful thing to quietly read and reflect on the poem, but it is possible to overlook some technical elements of the poetry if one reads it silently. Reading the poem aloud adds another dimension altogether to one’s understanding and experience of the poem.

In each stanza, the bells are made of particular metals that reflect the purpose and symbolism of the bells, but which also have different sounds when they ring in that verse of the poem.
The verbs used by Poe to describe the way in which the bells ring have been purposefully chosen to shape the meaning by controlling the speed and temperament of the reading. Short vowel sounds in “jingling” and “tinkling” are replaced with successively longer vowel sounds that slow the reading down and lower the register of the voice, so that the mood becomes more serious and sombre. By the end, the “moaning and the groaning of the bells” is oppressive and fearful, evoking horror and fear in the reader.

I really enjoy the onomatopoeia – words that sound like their meaning – of the poem as it grows progressively louder and heavier, emphasising and compounding the darkening tone and message of the poem. It is the sounds of the bells that tell us what is going on, as much as the other narrative provided by the poem.

the-bells-419677_960_720

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 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 endeavor
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;
Yet, 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 clamour and the clangour 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 meaning 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,
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.

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

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Lyrics and Poetry: what’s the difference?

Many people don’t realise where the term “lyrics” came from.

In my first post related to National Poetry Month, I issued this challenge: “Listen carefully to songs on the radio. You might be surprised how many of them are poetry set to music. ”

Many people don’t realise that’s where the term “lyrics” came from.

A lyric poem is one that focuses on the feelings and thoughts of the poet, rather than describing something (an ode) or telling a story (a ballad). These poems were often set to music, especially that of a lyre – this is where the term “lyrics” for the words of a song came from. So when people talk about the lyrics of a song, it’s a throwback to the origins of the love song in popular poetry, centuries ago.

That’s the sort of poetic wordy-nerdy-ness that makes me ridiculously happy.

One of the most famous lyric poems in the English language is Wordsworth’s poem that is commonly, and somewhat affectionately, called Daffodils – even though that’s not actually its title. It gets quoted – and misquoted – a lot in films, TV shows and books.

Daffodils.jpg

It’s a beautiful poem that transports the reader’s vision to the field of daffodils, but also transports their thoughts into the reader’s mind to explore how the flowers made him think and feel.

As with all older poems, there are some words in it that don’t really get used much anymore:

  • Jocund means joyful or cheerful.
  • Gay – in the context of this poem – means happy.
    (To clarify further, daffodils are, like most things in the plant kingdom, completely uninterested in one’s sexuality. I like to think that this is probably why they’re happier than many people.)
  • Pensive means thoughtful.

Now that those tricky words are sorted, you should be able to make perfect sense of this beautiful poem.

‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

If you’d like to hear a magnificent reading of this poem, I suggest you try the recording by English actress Noma Dumazweni.  The reading by Jeremy Irons is quite nice, too.

 

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Mind Blown.

Mind Blown: A story from my Year 10 history classroom.

The classroom was quiet although full of students; the only sounds were made by a page turning, someone typing, or the occasional movement of a foot on the carpet as students worked individually on the task that had been set for them.

 

One boy sniffed noisily. I glanced at him, but he was too focused on his work to make eye contact with me. At the back of the room, another boy sniffed, gaining more traction so that his friend had done. I could almost feel the lump of whatever that was in my throat, and my stomach lurched. The boy at the front of the room sniffed again.

 

“Okay, guys… the sniffing has to stop. Did you know they make these squares of fabric called handkerchiefs, that you can use to clear your nose? They even make disposable ones, called tissues, so you don’t have to deal with them or their contents again later.”

 

“Sorry, Mrs V,” said the young man at the front desk, looking suitably repentant.
tissues-1000849_960_720.png

 

“Wait!” said another young fellow. “A tissue is a disposable hanky?”

 

“Well, yes.” I grinned at the obvious surprise on his face.

 

“I’ve never thought of it that way before!” Caught in the spell of his ‘penny drop’ moment, his eyes were wide and his smile was one of discovery and wonder.

 

“So, it’s your mind that has been blown, not your nose?”

 

He nodded, laughing along with his classmates, then returned to his work as industry and silence once again took custody of the classroom.

 

I really enjoy teaching these kids. They’re pretty great.
And they seem to genuinely appreciate the fact that I am a comic genius.

 

Barbarians: who knew?

What does a teacher do when a student calls another a name that is just plain wrong?

Yesterday one of my students called another a ‘Philistine’. I know he meant to suggest that his friend was uncultured and ignorant, and that is what many understand the word to mean.

So, being the time-and-knowledge-generous history nerd that I am, I took a break from our study of World War I and explained to my class that what he meant to suggest is not what the Philistines were at all.

The Philistines were a cultured and wealthy civilisation that lived in Canaan between the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the biblical kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They lived in and between five cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The same region bears the name ‘Palestine’ today – a name derived from the Philistine civilisation. The ancient Philistines enjoyed enough military prowess to hold their own against Lebanon, Syria and Egypt at different times, fighting with spears, straight swords and shields. When not fighting wars, they lived in elaborate buildings and made their own pottery.

It doesn’t really seem consistent with the idea of ignorance, does it?

Sadly, this is not the only case of such name-calling being so ironic.

Barbarian is another term which is used quite wrongly. It’s used to suggest that someone is wild or uncivilised.  Historically, the Barbarians were any number of Germanic tribes that moved throughout Europe in what many refer to as ‘The Dark Ages’, even though they weren’t so dark at all.

Barbarians
The Barbarians. https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/416794140495615038/

Really, if you look at them, they don’t look so incredibly different from one another, nor from the folk our history books tell us were our own ancestors. It may surprise you to know that the Barbarian tribes included the Angles, Saxons and Picts who set up shop in Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire and eventually became some of the most devotedly civilised people on earth. The Gauls became the French, the Geats became the Swedes, and the Danes went on to give us Hamlet, pastries and an Australian princess.
(Disclaimer: I don’t know if the part about the pastries is true, but they must be called danishes for a reason… right?) 

The Vandals, for example, may have left a trail of destruction in Gaul and Iberia, but they only made a bit of a mess of Carthage before taking it as their capital and making extensive renovations. As a military power, they had skill and knowledge – you’ve actually got to hand it to anyone who could not only withstand the power of the Roman Empire, but also hold their own in so many battles over such a long period. And when they weren’t busy fighting the Romans, they were highly cultured, enjoying music and poetry. They conducted a lot of industry and trade in their North African kingdom. It really was not about breaking or ruining stuff at all.

The Goths, oddly enough, did not sit around in dark clothes wearing black makeup. The name “Goth”  was derived from ‘Geats’, the tribe famous for its honour and pride in the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf,  as told in the oldest English poem in existence.

Scandinavia at the time of Beowulf.
Map Prepared by Louis Henwood for ‘The History of English’ podcast, episode 42

They actually had sophisticated architecture and beautiful mosaic art. They made and wore intricate gold jewellery. They were farmers, weavers, potters, blacksmiths. They followed intricate burial rites, making sure that the graves always pointed north.

Related to the Goths were the Visigoths, meaning “Goths of the west” who ruled Spain for a couple of centuries. They built churches that still stand today, decorated their buildings with intricate filigree art and stone arches. They were skillful metalworkers and jewellers.

It seems to me that we do history a disservice by misusing these terms in such a way.  Connotations are not always the easiest things to track through history, but these seem quite unfair. I suspect that such practice grew out of the fear of anything or anyone different, foreign and/or pagan – a concept with which Western society is still painfully familiar.

By the end of all that, the kids’ eyes had glazed over a bit, and there was a fair bit of smiling and nodding going on. I don’t think they will be calling each other Philistines again, though. So… mission accomplished.

 

If you’d like to know more about Beowfulf and the Geats, you could listen to a fabulous episode from ‘The History of English’ podcast. It’s a great podcast, and if you’re interested in the development and history of the English language, or the relationships between language, people, and places, you should consider subscribing. 

The Problem With Sentence Fragments.

I’ve read a couple of books lately that have been rather good, although plagued with something that is becoming the bane of my life as a reader: sentence fragments. 

Words and Phrases

 

I’ve read a couple of books lately that have been rather good, although plagued with something that is becoming the bane of my life as a reader: sentence fragments.

There was one book I started reading a couple of weeks ago where this was rampant, along with other issues, to the point where I couldn’t continue.

A sentence fragment is something that presents as a sentence in that it starts with a capital letter and ends with a period, but doesn’t actually make sense on its own.

A sentence fragment is often added as an afterthought when it really should be tacked onto the previous sentence with either a comma or a semicolon.

Consider the following example:

Jack went into his bedroom and closed the door, preferring privacy for reading his new book. Which was something that he knew annoyed his little brother.

 

That last sentence fragment actually makes no sense without the previous sentence.

If this happens just once or twice in a book, it’s still too often. However, it happens a lot. To be completely honest, it’s something I mark my senior high school English students down on. It’s what I consider quite a basic error: it’s not that hard to read something you’ve written down and ask yourself if it makes sense.

I understand that some readers don’t notice it, but many others will find it very frustrating indeed.

The exception is in direct speech or train of thought writing. People do speak like that, and they often think in fragments of thoughts, especially when under stress or in pain. If it’s something a character is thinking or saying, there is no problem. When it is part of the narrative, however, it really is an issue.

I don’t want to come across as being all finicky and fussy. My intention is that writers might recognise and self-correct this problem in their writing, even if it means  revising an entire manuscript so that their book reads better.

This is also another argument for having any manuscript thoroughly proof-read and edited before you publish anything, especially as an Indie author who wants to be taken seriously as a writer.

In the end it will earn you more stars and more readers.

When your story is great, and your message is important, please don’t allow something that is easily fixed to compromise the success of your book.

Instead, take the time and effort to make sure that your writing, and the overall quality of your book, is the best it can be. You owe it to your readers, and you owe it to yourself.

 

Top Four English Language Podcasts

If you’re someone who takes knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” seriously, if you experience a secret thrill when someone uses a semi-colon or an Oxford comma properly, or if you just want to know more, these podcasts could be for you. 

Promo Top Five English Podcasts Plain

Pleasantly surprised by how popular last week’s post on my top five history podcasts proved to be, I decided to share a little more of my podcast-loving joy with you this week.

It’s common knowledge that I’m pretty nerdy about words.

I love them. I love the way they work. I love knowing where different words and phrases came from. I love using them to write and communicate ideas in interesting ways. I love knowing which words are related to each other, even when they don’t actually sound much like each other anymore, like long-lost cousins who bump into each other when they leave home to go to university, and discover their common history that the family has been hiding in the dust and cobwebs behind the skeleton in the closet.

So, it should come as no surprise that I enjoy listening to podcasts about the English language, its roots and evolution, and how it works.

If you’re someone who takes knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” seriously, if you experience a secret thrill when someone uses a semi-colon or an Oxford comma properly, or if you just want to know more, these podcasts could be for you.

So, without further ado, here are my four favourite word-nerdy podcasts.

#1. The History of English.  This podcast gets into the down and dirty of where the English language and many of the words and phrases we use came from. If you suspect that Mr Webster didn’t just go out into a cabbage patch and find a newborn lexicon crying for its mother, give this podcast a try.
twitter: @englishhistpod
http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/

#2. Lingthusiasm. This podcast explores different aspects of the English language in just over 30 minutes for each episode. It’s interesting, word-nerdy, and fun.
twitter: @lingthusiasm
http://lingthusiasm.com/

#3. The Allusionist. This podcast focuses more on lexicon and how we use words to craft and deliver meaning in particular ways. The episodes are a bit shorter than the first two placegetters, staying under 20 minutes a shot.
twitter: @AllusionistShow
www.theallusionist.org

#4. The English We Speak. This podcast from the BBC World Service explores those words and phrases we use every day in episodes that last about three minutes each. This might be a good place “to cut your teeth” if you don’t want to “go the whole hog”.  You’re catching on. Cool.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/features/the-english-we-speak

 

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Almost.

The Basics: Why Spelling and Punctuation Matter.

Make sure you’re sending the message you actually want to send to your audience, every time.

d-school-letter-grade
For the first time in a long time, I’ve recently abandoned reading a book. I’m usually fairly persistent, but I couldn’t get past the second chapter. It’s so full of basic errors, I’d be giving any of my students who wrote it a D.  That book – any book – has no business being for sale on any platform, Indie or otherwise, until it has been properly edited and corrected.

If I had a dollar for every time I have face-palmed over glaring errors of spelling, word choice or punctuation in someone else’s social media posts, I would be considerably richer than I am today.

As people who promote ourselves as writers, it’s crucial that we don’t make those mistakes.

I’m not talking about the occasional typo, and I’m not talking about the type of formatting error that can happen to absolutely anyone when converting a book to eBook format. I’m talking about really basic errors – missing punctuation, terrible sentence structure, shocking spelling. Of course, not differentiating correctly between “your” and “you’re” is always going to frustrate people. There will always be people who put apostrophes where they don’t belong and omit them where they are needed. The same is true for commas.

It boils down to the issue of credibility. If I cannot correctly construct a sentence to encourage people to buy my book, what is going to make people believe I could possibly write a whole book? A writer should be able to communicate their ideas and messages clearly and effectively, without frustrating the reader or making their eyes bleed.

Quite honestly, if someone’s social media posts are full of errors, I’m not going to be buying their book. I’m not even going to put my hand up for a free copy. And it’s not going to change my mind if people laugh it off and say, “It’s just Facebook… relax!”

I may be called judgemental  or overly critical. That’s okay.
As a reader and a frequent buyer of books, I’m entitled to be.
As a writer, nothing less should be expected.

proofreadingIf we want people to believe that Indie books are just as good as traditionally published books, we have to make sure they are. We must edit, and have them edited, as professional authors. We must promote both ourselves and our books as engaging, intelligent, and literate.  The example we set on social media is part of that, because that’s where we hope to find readers.

Please, folks, for credibility’s sake – in the interests of your own integrity – proof-read all your posts. Make sure you’re sending the message you actually want to send to your audience, every time.

Book Review: ‘Tompkin’s Academy for the Extraordinarily Gifted’ by Tabi Slick

This is a really good story with lots of twists and turns, some of which are absolutely heart-stopping. It’s the story of Izara and her journey of discovery of truth about herself and her twin brother, Kain, as they confront a world they had never dreamed of.
The story has some incredibly dark moments, so I’d recommend it for an audience of 16+ years of age, but it also has strong elements of hope despite the  odds.

The characters are relatable and very engaging. As a reader, I didn’t always like Izara or Kain, but that actually made them more believable and intriguing.

The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the number of regular typos in the text, which I found annoying: they didn’t really detract from the story at all, but I am a stickler for those things, and I did find it distracting.

The book ended on a cliffhanger, so it wasn’t satisfying in the sense of getting answers or resolution, but it definitely whets the appetite for the next instalment!
I want more of Tompkin’s Academy!

Four stars.

That’s New. 

So, today I’ve walked into my classroom to be greeted  by a student with “Happy B-dizzle!”

“Sorrypardonwhat?” I asked.

“Happy B-dizzle!” She repeated.

“Is that even a thing?” I wondered aloud. 

“It is now!” asserted another student. 
You know, it’s a very caring student that gives her English teacher a brand-newish word for her birthday. 

So… Happy B-dizzle to me, I guess.

Classroom crisis. 

This afternoon in class, one of my Literature students commented that she didn’t know what she was doing.

“Do you need help with the task?”

“No, I mean generally…”

Her friend said, “She’s just existential crisising all over the place.”

I looked at her in amazement and said, “Wow!”

I don’t usually approve of verbing, but that was impressive.

Then she continued, “Yeah, but if you want to quote me on it,  you’ll have to sign our agreements and stuff…”
So here I am, quoting her anonymously.  I didn’t sign any contract, either.