“The Bells,” a poem by Edgar Allen Poe, mentions four different kinds of bells. First the cheerful silver bells of a sledge. Then, joyful wedding bells. The third bells mentioned are alarm bells signaling a fire, and the fourth are iron bells tolling some tragedy. Here we will focus on the third type of bell.
Poe introduces the bells in this way:
Hear the loud alarum bells—
What tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
He then goes on to describe the terrifying sound of these clanging bells. They signal a fire. We can imagine the stress and fear of someone hearing the bells, which sound like they are screaming in terror themselves.
It is a very jarring and uncomfortable sound, which is precisely the intent, as these bells served as an early form of a fire alarm system. People would hear them, jump out of bed, and go to make sure it wasn’t their own house on fire. By the sound of the bells and their distance away, people could understand the severity and danger of the fire itself.