Last time we had a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson here on the blog, it was his lovely short piece “The Owl”. In this post I’d like to present “Ring Out, Wild Bells”: it’s a classic New Year’s Eve poem, filled with good wishes and hopeful pleas. First published in 1850, it addresses everything from wishes for good health to the rule of justice and the end of wars—things we can all wish for over century and a half later. Some things never change…
Let’s first clear up some of the formalities: the poem consists of eight stanzas of four lines each. If you read the poem aloud (which I always encourage), you’ll soon notice the ABBA rhyming pattern. You’ll also notice a steady and consistent rhythm: each line contains about eight syllables metrically organised into iambs, i.e. the poem has an iambic metre.
If I’ve lost you with this last bit, let me explain: an iamb is one of many metrical units used in poetry since the times of ancient Greece. Each iamb consists of two syllables: the first one is unstressed and/or short, while the second one is stressed and often long(er). When you read the lines of the poem below, you’ll easily be able to make out these syllables: try reading them out in this rhythm.
Two more technical words I’d like to introduce here are scansion and its corresponding verb to scan. When you scan a poem, you analyse its metrical pattern, so you’d actually know how to properly read it out. It was a huge deal in the poetry of classical Greece and Rome, as all poetry was recited in its metre. That’s very different from how contemporary, free-verse poetry is written and read out, which is pretty much like prose.
I know I’ve bored you enough, so let’s move on to Tennyson! As always in my poetry posts, there’s a vocabulary exercise for English language learners below, so don’t miss that one.
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. Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true. Ring out the grief that saps the mind For those that here we see no more; Ring out the feud of rich and poor, Ring in redress to all mankind. Ring out a slowly dying cause, And ancient forms of party strife; Ring in the nobler modes of life, With sweeter manners, purer laws. Ring out the want, the care, the sin, The faithless coldness of the times; Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes But ring the fuller minstrel in. Ring out false pride in place and blood, The civic slander and the spite; Ring in the love of truth and right, Ring in the common love of good. Ring out old shapes of foul disease; Ring out the narrowing lust of gold; Ring out the thousand wars of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace. Ring in the valiant man and free, The larger heart, the kindlier hand; Ring out the darkness of the land, Ring in the Christ that is to be.
Match the following words from the poem with the corresponding synonyms or definitions:
- frosty (adjective, stanza 1)
- sap (verb, stanza 3)
- feud (noun, stanza 3)
- redress (noun, stanza 3)
- strife (noun, stanza 4)
- mournful (adjective, stanza 5)
- minstrel (noun, stanza 5)
- slander (noun, stanza 6)
- spite (noun, stanza 6)
- foul (adjective, stanza 7)
- valiant (adjective, stanza 8)
- sad, sorrowful, gloomy
- bold and brave
- a false and damaging statement about someone
- a prolonged and bitter quarrel
- a conflict, an angry disagreement
- a desire to hurt or offend someone
- a mediaeval singer or musician
- disgusting; evil; immoral
- compensation for a wrong
- to gradually weaken, exhaust the energy of something
- very cold
To check your answers, click here for the answer key.