Analysis of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Ring Out, Wild Bells" (part of In Memoriam): An Elegiac Poem on Arthur Henry Hallam and General Reference


"Ring Out, Wild Bells" is an elegiac poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Published in 1850, the year he was appointed Poet Laureate, it forms part of In Memoriam, Tennyson's elegy to Arthur Henry Hallam, his sister's fiancé who died at the age of twenty-two.

The main theme of the poem "Ring Out, Wild Bells" is Renewal and Rebirth like that of Thomas Hardy’s Thirst. It says of ringing out, or bidding goodbye of all the stops of pain and pathos. Read More Poetry On the other hand, ‘Bells’ also indicates welcoming something new. On analyzing the title, it is apparent that the poem is about bidding goodbye to the old, and welcoming the new. This is apparent in the opening stanza where the poet writes:
           “The year is dying in the night;
            Ring out, wild bells, and let him die”

Here is a discourse on new beginnings - a fresh start for mankind as a whole, and individuals in particular. There is a call for Truth here- a doing away once and for all with falsehood and embracing the dignity and purity of truth.

At its core, "Ring Out, Wild Bells" is an energetic cry for human beings to dispense with destructive ideologies and beliefs that lead to destructive actions across the board, as pertains to the human experience. A spiritual renewal must first take place within the mind of human beings. Read More Poetry Only then can other types of renewal take place, including the physical renewal of the earth from the destructive effects of war and other harmful events.

Tennyson calls for an end to grief for those who have died. They are at rest; we who remain must move on and live. He also calls for an end to class strife, desiring rich and poor (and all classes in between) to live in harmony with one another. The renewal that Tennyson calls for is one where the old order and way of thinking and doing things is banished for good. Read More Poetry The poet desires an end to political strife. He wants the proper rule of law, in tandem with good manners - people treating others with respect as they all work for the common good in society.

Tennyson also desires a renewal in health, both physically and in the inner man. He speaks of mankind ringing out the "old shapes of foul disease" as well as ringing out greed. The renewal he talks about will rejuvenate man, society and the earth.
In the end, Tennyson knows all of the above listed here is a tall order for human beings to accomplish. Therefore, he calls on the One whom he believes will accomplish complete Renewal for mankind: 
         “Ring in the Christ that is to be.”

‘Ring out, Wild Bells’ is full of strong emotions—sorrow, courage, and religious devotion. The poet laments the death of Arthur Henry Hallam, his college friend and constant companion. But there is always a feeling of joy in his expression of grief. Read More Poetry He sings of the greater things of life and immortality until at last a Christmas comes that finds him calm in mind and strong in faith, and in a great song of triumph, the poem reaches its climax. He speaks of the hope that we share at the turning at the year.

We have heard bells ringing in the temples, in the fire brigade vehicles, in the neck of the bulls and horses drawing carriages in the phuchka’ vans, in the hand rickshaws and in some other places. Read More Poetry The sound of ringing bells suggests the breaking of silence and the step for making others aware of one’s presence. We like to hear bells ringing loudly because it not only serves its purpose well in that case but also it creates a sound pleasing to the ears while it is heard from a distance.
  The poem was written on the occasion of death of Arthur Henry Hallam, who was poet’s college friend and constant companion. That’s why the poet expresses his grief. It is a poem of lamentation. The poem refers to the time which is approaching Christmas. The year is coming to an end. It is quite clear in the following words:
The year is dying ….Ring in the Christ that is to be
The word ‘wild suggests’ that the bells are ringing loudly. The sky is wild because it is grief stricken. The wild bells make the sky with flying cloud and frosty light wild. It suggests that the sky is shaken with sounds and it has lost its cool and calm nature. It has experienced a great storm.

 ‘Him’ in the line four refers to the year. In the words of some critics it actually refers to poet’s friend, Arthur Henry Hallam:
“Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.”

The poet wants him to die because it has experienced a great storm and it is shaken with the grief. The poet’s concern is expressed in the darkness of the land, which he hopes to be cleared in the New Year. Read More Poetry The bells ring out for foul disease, the narrowing lust of gold, of wars then peace come thousands of years. The phrases, ‘flying cloud’ and ‘frosty light’ are symbolic of a cold and windy winter evening. ‘The year is dying in the night’ suggests it to be The New Years’ eve as the year is dissolving with the onset of night and the poet tells us to let the night pass and bring an end to the year. The second stanza talks about bidding adieu to the old year by ringing bells, and at the same time, ringing those bells to salute the New Year, a new beginning. ‘Ring, happy bells, across the snow’, again indicates the cold winter month of January. The poet tells the reader to do away with falsehood, and with the New Year, make a new beginning and embrace the truth.

  Though the poet expresses his grief over the death of his friend earlier, he gradually moves away from personal sorrow to the sorrows of mankind, he sings of the greater things of life. He sings a song of triumph. He also hopes that the New Year will bring new hope and thoughts.


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