The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Ring out your bells” is part of a miscellaneous collection of thirty-two sonnets and songs. This song is divided into four stanzas, each composed of six lines of verse and four lines of choral refrain. The speaker’s opening request, addressed to his neighborly audience, suggests the ancient custom of tolling church bells to announce a local death. It also establishes the common funereal experience and the solemn tone for this poetic monologue about the death of love. The speaker distances himself from his own abstract emotion, the idea of love, by personifying it (giving love human attributes and treating it as if it were a real person). In this way, the concept of love, separated from himself, becomes a fictive character whose death is cause for his initial request. When love is viewed as a separate individual, the speaker can complain bitterly about his frustration and misery, the causes for love’s infection, sickness and death, and his haughty mistress’s abusive and capricious cruelty. Thus, there are three characters in this dramatic song: the speaker, his absent mistress, and love.

The idea of death, a universal event, introduces the situation and allows the speaker to appeal to a reader’s sympathetic responses. When he urges his listeners to action—to ring the church bells, openly express grief, wail sorrowful songs, and read thirty requiem masses—the speaker clothes another commonplace occurrence, a romantic dispute and separation,...

(The entire section is 513 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Sir Philip Sidney was a poetic experimenter, synthesizer, and innovator in poetic theory and forms. He sought new ways to use and revitalize old literary traditions and conventions such as those popularized in Petrarchan and Platonic love poetry. Petrarchan love sonnets featured aristocratic and courtly lovers who complimented and manipulated an idealized mistress with extravagantly flattering metaphors, images that implied parallels between two ostensibly different things. For instance, some facial features of an iconic mistress might be suggestively likened to stars, roses, pearls, or cherries. Platonic love originally described an aristocratic code of chivalrous devotion to a married lady or to one of superior social rank. Through time, the chaste nature of this old bond was sometimes abused. In courtships in which lovers were not given favors or awards, the discontented petitioner agonized, complained, and pleaded repeatedly to the untouchable lady, who refused him. In “Ring out your bells,” the speaker’s catalog of grievances typifies him as a Platonic lover whose courtship has been soundly rebuffed. In rebellion, his thoughts turn dark when his virtues or lofty aims are not rewarded in some way.

Simple patterns of imagery support the synthesis of Petrarchan and Platonic traditions. The speaker implies an analogy between love’s tomb and the mistress’s stony heart and suggestively equates love’s eyes with the love darts in the epitaph....

(The entire section is 458 words.)