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Hearing Poe’s Christmas Bells in the Bronx

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Hear the sledges with the bells –
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells –
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

— From "The Bells," Edgar Allen Poe, 1849

Eight years ago, my boyfriend BG left Manhattan for a small studio apartment in the Bronx. Being a tad on the paranoid side, he does not like to keep all his windows wide open, and the apartment can get rather dark. However, the one room in the place with a great view is the bathroom, and the window is left unshaded for the entertainment of BG's cat, who can observe the pigeons who love to vex her from the safety of the outside windowsill. Here, the sun streams in all day, and looking out one can see some of the buildings of Fordham University in the distance – including, I believe, the spires of its church. Since most buildings here are no higher than six stories, I've often remarked to BG that looking out the window and seeing the low rooftops makes me feel like I might be in a garret in Paris.

Near BG's apartment lies Poe Park. Within it sits Poe Cottage, where Edgar Allen Poe lived from 1846-1849. Poe moved there with his ailing wife in an attempt to escape the crowded city for the then-bucolic atmosphere and fresh air of the Bronx.

During these years, one of the poems Poe composed was "The Bells." In 1845 the University Church — located within what is now known as Fordham University — was constructed. It is possible that the chiming of these church bells inspired this famous poem. At least, I like to think so.

I believe it was last Christmas when I first heard the bells that I assume were originating from Fordham's church – it seemed as if the University had decided to bring them back into play. In addition to chiming the hour, they pealed out the "Star Spangled Banner" and Christmas songs. I thought about the fact that in the days before everyone had a Rolex or even a humble Timex, the church bells might have been the only way for the common man to keep track of the hours.

So on this Christmas day, it seems appropriate to hear the chiming of the church bells through the window of BG's humble abode, and to feel the spirit of Poe still present, somehow, from his former humble cottage down the road.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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About Elvira Black

  • Every other Sunday, my family and I would drive past Poe Park and Poe’s Cottage on the way to visit my grandfather and aunt. I was always fascinated by its dollhouse-like proportions surrounded by urban highways and apartment buildings. Thanks for stirring a happy memory!

  • Roberta:

    Thanks so much for your comment. The city is investing more in all five boroughs now, and I can see the changes happening in the local parks. Poe Park was recently renovated, and they have plans to create, I think, a multimedia visitor’s center for Poe Cottage.

    The city changes so rapidly, and sometimes would-be landmarks get destroyed in the name of “progress.” I’m glad that Poe Cottage has remained intact as a historic museum site.

  • Richard

    I remember my mom taking me to the cottage when I was about eight , I think. She was really upset because the place was really dusty and neglected. I believe she sent a nasty letter to the city or something. As to your theory about the Bells. Whether they were in his head(opium), or a reality ,I don’t know. Remember what Jake Barnes says , ” Isn’t it pretty to think so.” Good article.

  • Thanks Richard:

    Well, we do have church bells from a few sources around the hood. Where I live, there is a 100 year old Catholic church that has bells ringing every hour plus.

    In my b/f’s area by Kingsbridge Road, you hear bells also. I thought they were from Fordham University, but might be another church. But no, I think in this instance it wasn’t an opiod hallucination. This area is filled to the brim with churches of every denomination.

    As far as Poe Park and the cottage, the city has been renovating the park and the cottage, and will be turning it into a “visitor’s center” with computerized geegaws. They’re still working on it. If you visited during the 70s or 80s, it’s not surprising if the place seemed neglected; the whole city was, and went backrupt in the 70s.

    I visited years ago and it was cool. I guess people really were smaller then because it was on a really small scale, but charming. It was originally located a few blocks away, but they moved it to the park way back.