Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Bell

from: Emerson, Ralph Waldo.  Early Poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York, Boston, Thomas Y. Crowell & Company: 1899. Introduction by Nathan Haskell Dole. 


I love thy music, mellow bell,
I love thine iron chime,
To life or death, to heaven or hell,
Which calls the sons of Time.

Thy voice upon the deep
The home-bound sea-boy hails,
It charms his cares to sleep,
It cheers him as he sails.

To house of God and heavenly joys
Thy summons called our sires,
And good men thought thy sacred voice
Disarmed the thunder's fires.

And soon thy music, sad death-bell,
Shall lift its notes once more,
And mix my requiem with the wind
That sweeps my native shore.


"The Bell" by Ralph Waldo Emerson uses the bell as a central metaphor to explore life's significant transitions, the passage of time, and the inevitability of mortality.

The poem establishes the bell's dual ability to signal joy and sorrow. The second stanza focuses on the bell's comforting role, suggesting it is a guiding force for those on perilous journeys, specifically sailors. The third stanza emphasizes the bell's spiritual significance, calling people to religious worship and suggesting its sound has divine protection against nature's wrath. The final stanza, however, takes a sad turn, with Emerson acknowledging the bell's role in marking the death and foretelling that it will soon ring for him, blending with the natural elements of his homeland.

In essence, the poem underscores the cyclical nature of human existence, with the bell symbolizing its many roles in marking significant moments in a person's life, from celebratory to mournful.

Ralph Waldo Emerson Self Reliance

Ralph Waldo Emerson left the ministry to pursue a career in writing and public speaking. Emerson became one of America's best known and best-loved 19th-century figures.
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Emerson Quotes

"Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons."
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” 
– Ralph Waldo Emerson