My mind refuses to reveal the details of the day that I first read Poe’s poem “The Bells.” I do remember, however, the pleasure of hearing it read out loud and listening to the music of the bells in every line. Most likely it was in my sophomore year of high school. The teacher’s name remains buried beneath the rubble of my memories, but I remember that she was a great lover of words. Although I had some interest in biology, French, and algebra, I loved English class because we were required to read. No one had to require me to read, but English class assignments gave me the perfect excuse to avoid chores or obligations – Sorry, but I have to read this for English class.
Poe’s use of language, first ringing and singing then wrangling and jangling across the page, thrilled me. I loved the words, even the ones I didn’t know yet like tintinnabulation, euphony, and monody. I never forgot the delight of listening to those tinkling silver sleigh bells and the bright golden wedding bells, followed by the clanging bronze alarm bells that led finally and irrevocably to the heavy iron bells tolling death. Poe, of course, could never stop with love and beauty; he had to follow them to their final end. But it was the magic of the words even more than the meaning of the poem that held me and rang in my mind ever after.
A half of a century later, I often think of Poe and his poem. When the world and the whirlwind in my mind are still, especially at night, which is when all of Poe’s bells ring, I hear the tintinnabulation of the bells, ringing and singing in my ear without end. I had hoped six weeks ago, when the ringing first began that it was a temporary aberration of the ear, but it has continued. The official name for this most poetic of conditions is tinnitus, so called since 1684 when it was listed in a medical dictionary as “a certain buzzing or tingling in the ear.”
Like so many conditions and health issues, the only cure is death. Until then, I must learn to manage the sound, ignoring it when I can. When I am busy, I don’t notice it at all. Thankfully, I have discovered dozens of possible illnesses that cause tinnitus. I’m sure I have all of them, so I should stay quite busy, first by diagnosing myself to confirm that I have them, next by keeping vigil by my deathbed, and finally by spontaneously recovering from all of them.
For your reading pleasure, go here to read “The Bells.” Enjoy. May it ring in your mind, but not your ears, forever.
Photos: Large church bell by Cherubino Small bells by David Blaikie Three bells by Badseed