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...over-educated and under-experienced, or so they say...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Poe, Tinnitus, and The Ringing of the Stinking Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells...

My ears have been ringing for three weeks. Yes, it's annoying.

I woke up around 2:30 this morning, got a glass of water, and went back to bed. I laid there, trying to go back to sleep, but the silence of the room left me nothing but the sound of the damn ringing in my ears. The more I tried to focus on relaxing and sleeping the louder the ringing became. There was nothing but this constant high pitched tone consuming my mind, like a dog whistle that no one can hear but me.

I started analyzing the sound. There is a sort of break in it, a very slight variance in pitch from time to time, but there is no rhythm. I can't keep time to it. I can't march to it. It's just there, endlessly ringing, but not like a bell.

I started thinking about how annoying it was, how it could potentially drive a person insane. Then, for whatever reason, I started thinking of Edgar Allen Poe and how annoyed I always was by the poem _The Bells_.

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.

I love Poe and his writing, but this one poem always drove me nuts (kind of like this ringing in my ears). It drove me nuts because it seemed that the teachers never "got it." They would stand at the front of the class and clap their hands together with joy and say something stupid like, "Oh, I just love this poem! Doesn't it just ring like a bell? And look at all these bells: wedding bells, golden bells, silver bells... Poe must've been really happy when he wrote this one." What? Happy? Poe? No. At this point I think it was more like he had tinnitus and laid awake one night listening to the "tinkling" and the "jingling" in his head so he decided to get up and write something.

You see, these teachers come from the old school that poetry is all about rhythm and rhyme and the poet's ability to wield it like the masters that they are. The problem is, by focusing on just the rhythm they miss the big picture and lose the opportunity to show their students the true art of the poet.

This poem is written in four parts: the first being silver bells and the "world of merriment their melody foretells;" the second being golden bells and the "world of happiness their harmony foretells;" the third being brazen bells and a "tale of terror...their turbulency tells;" and the fourth and final part being the iron bells and the "world of solemn thought their monody compels." Monody, people! The final stanza of the poem tells of Monody which smacks of lament, of sorrow, of mournful loss, of tragedy. Now, that being said, shall we all clap our hands together joyfully and say how much we love this poem and that Poe must have been happy when he wrote this?

The true art of the poem is that this rhythm that makes these teachers clap with innocent glee is a subtle reference to the rhythm of life and our blind following of the "time time time" that it keeps. The repetition of the bells, bells, bells indicates our repetition of a pattern: there is birth, there is love and romance, there is alarm and warning of all that is destructive and burns like wild fire, and there is death that inevitably tolls like an iron bell for us all. This is the "Runic rhyme," the one written in stone somewhere by a supernatural force that won't allow us to do anything but eventually die. Additionally, there are people, like ghouls, hanging about the steeples, ringing the bells of death. That is their only job and they don't get to do it unless we die. There's a sense of sick pleasure in the death because now they have purpose -- to ring the bell after you and I kick the bucket!

Now I ask you, does this sound like a man that woke up happy from his bed, or does it sound like a man that couldn't sleep because of the damn ringing in his ears that could be interpreted as an "alarum bell" indicating that the "iron bell" of death is waiting just around the corner? I'm pretty sure you know what I think.

(and if you're worried, I did go to the doctor yesterday. I have an infection in both ears, hence the ringing, and I could go off on the symbolism of that, but I won't.)


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