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- Seen in context, Pope’s quote can be read as such: “[in a poem” the sound [of a word] should seem an echo to the sense [of the word]”.
a. I think “sense” refers to a particular feeling or emotion
b. My understanding of Alexander Pope’s quote is that sound, used in the context of writings and literary pieces like poems, should be able to evoke emotions via appealing to our sense of hearing, in this case, such that the reader would be able to truly understand and appreciate why the certain word(s) is/are being used.
a. Rhyme: “kill” vs. “till”, “bell” vs. “fell” - each of these words have the same “-ill” or “-ell” ending sound.
b. Rhythm: “drag” vs. “flag”, “skip” vs. “flip” - there is a dragging effect at the end of the pronunciation of the words “drag” and “flag”, slowing down pace of the poem at that instance; on the other hand, “flip” and “skip” creates a faster pace.
c. Assonance: “Can you face the fact already?”, “Old men shown the woe in those days” - in the first sentence, there is an assonance in which the “a” vowel is repeated, creating an effect of the speaker being angry due to the quick pronunciation of the vowel in each word; in the second sentence, the “o” vowel is repeated, creating a sombre, even sad mood.
d. Consonance: “drunk” vs. “drank”, “pick” vs. “peck” - in the first example, the “dr-” and “-nk” consonants are fixed but there’s a difference between the “u” and “a” vowel sounds; in the second example, the “p-” and “-ck” consonants are fixed but there’s a difference between the “i” and “e” vowel sounds
e. Onomatopoeia: “click clack”, “tick tock” - the first example sounds like the hooves of a horse; the second example sounds like the sound which a clock makes.
Poe creates two markedly distinct tones in “The Bells” by creating different imagery and pace for each part of the poem. In part 1, a cheery mood is created due to the poet’s diction, which makes references to festive periods and thus brings out a sense of “merriment”. The words “sledges”, “bells”, “icy” are references towards Christmas, hence the reader visualises a delightful scene of winter filled with merry-making. The mention of “stars” and “heaven” contribute to the pervasive theme of positivity, blessing and happiness.
More importantly, Poe employs effective usage of sound devices to bring out a happy tone - this is mostly done via creating a fast rhythm which permeates the whole of Part 1. The rhyming end words of the first three lines (“bells” and “foretells”) create an uplifting atmosphere as the pronunciation of the -ells suffix tends to be quick, with a raised tone of voice. The writer ingeniously uses the words “twinkle” and “oversprinkle”, not just as rhymes, but also because these are words normally uttered by children, hence such diction not only brings about a sense of happiness, but also innocence. The lines “keeping time, time, time,/In a sort of Runic rhyme” has a fast rhythm, creating almost a catchy, head-bopping beat to the poem.
The word “tintinnabulation” has alliteration within itself, with the abrupt pauses within yet quick pronunciation of the whole word contributing to the joyous mood of the poem. Finally, the emphasis on the word “bells” in the 12 th and 13 th lines of the poem is significant as it builds up a sense of excitement and amplifies the merry-making atmosphere.
However, we see a complete juxtaposition of the mood of the poem in Part 4 as compared to Part 1. The mood of Part 4 of the poem is depressing, almost eerie. This is created, again, by the poet’s diction, which creates a gloomy scene bringing out a sense of absolute pessimism. We see references to death and sadness in its most extreme form (to the point of it being torturous).
From the outset, the usage of “tolling” and “iron bells” sets the mood of the poem straight - the usage of the former connotes a funeral, a symbol of death and mourning, while the usage of “iron” in the latter produces an imagery of heaviness, or heavy-heartedness, and the combined usage amplifies the imagery of slow, deep sounds emanating from the bells. This slow rhythm of the poem is significant, for it not only contrasts with the mood in part 1, but also highlights the sadness within this part of the poem.
Similarly to part 1 though, part 4 of the poem places heavy emphasis on rhymes. For instance, the sharp pronunciation of the rhyming “night” and “affright” almost creates a sense of discomfort within the reader. Interestingly, we find usage of enjambment in part 4, something notably absent in part 1. This produces an excellent effect of abrupt, long pauses of surprise in multiple parts of the poem, and its effect is amplified when used in tangent with the regular rhymes in the poem.
For example, from “For every sound that floats/From the rust within their throats/Is a groan”, we can see that the rhyming “floats” and “throats” established a slow rhythm, only to be disrupted by the enjambment “is a groan”. Such employment of the two literary devices together draws emphasis to the “groan”, thus amplifying of suffering within the reader’s mind, contributing to the sense of negativity and hopelessness within the poem.
The usage of personification is evident from of how the bells are described to be “rolling”, “moaning” and “groaning” in the second half of part 4, keeping in line with the imagery of suffering.
However, it’s notable that contrast is used in the middle of part 4. Firstly, we take a look at “They are neither man nor woman-/They are neither brute nor human-/They are Ghouls:/And their king it is who tolls”. The rhyming of “woman” and “human” alongside the repetition of the phrases “they are neither…nor” as well as the reference to life in living things like “man”, “woman”, “brute” and “human” culminates in a strong emphasis on the enjambment of the line consisting the word “Ghouls”, creating a surreal, almost creepy, atmosphere saturated with supernatural elements.
The “king” of the “Ghouls” has his actions highlighted in “A paean from the bells!/And his merry bosom swells/With the paean of the bells!/And he dances, and he yells;/Keeping time, time, time,/In a sort of Runic rhyme”. Granted, these lines are virtually the only lines in part 4 which denote a sense of happiness. However, the happiness of this undead element does not directly equate to happiness in the mood of the poem, for the “king” of “Ghouls” itself clearly being the anti-thesis of life also means that the reader associates its “dances” and “yells” with evil undertones. Ultimately the only expression of a positive attitude in this poem is subverted by an underlying sinister tone, which still fits with the theme in part 4 of the poem.
In conclusion, Poe successfully creates the distinctly contrasting tones of merriment and gloom in “The Bells” by using the same object in two different settings with markedly different rhythm, diction and imagery in each part of the poem.
- After the exercise, I interpret Pope’s quote “the sound should seem an echo to the sense” as “sounds should evoke a specific set of thoughts, feelings and emotions within a person”. However, there can be multiple interpretations of the same sound and hence, the “sense” referred to here is highly specific in nature, unique to each individual, and should not be viewed upon as something of a general/collective truth.
- However, this is not always the case, for if a person is unable to relate to a particular sound, its effect would be reduced.
- A poem which relies heavily on aural poetic devices to impact the reader: “The Highway Man”/Alfred Noyes
- A poem in which sound is not as important: “The Victims”/Sharon Olds
- I prefer ‘visual’ poetic devices as opposed to ‘aural’ poetic devices. Granted, aural poetic devices may be easier to detect whilst reading a poem, however, the impact of it is not as great as ‘visual’ poetic devices. For devices such as imagery, I can vividly picture metaphors, similes or other forms of comparison in my mind and this evokes a stronger emotion more easily as I can relate to the picture in my mind more easily.
- Conversely, for aural devices, I’m able to understand the mood of the poem which the poet is trying to convey rather easily, using devices such as rhythm and rhyme. However, there may be a lack of strong personal response to the poem because it’s hard to translate the sounds in the poem to a picture in my mind which I can relate to. Furthermore, it seems like the underlying rhythm which permeates the whole poem fails to generate significant emotions (for instance, I did not feel particularly happy while analyzing Part 1 of “The Bells”).