Friday, December 31, 2021

Poetry Friday: Bells

December's challenge was to write a poem about bells.  Any kind. Any theme. Any form. 

My fellow poets in our ZOOM session had amazing ideas, about clever bell metaphors, and delicate bell sounds, and astounding bell stories.  And I had nothing but the vague feeling that I was dancing on the surface of a very deep ocean. Maybe it was because the older I grow, the more I realize how much I don't know---about bells or anything else. 

So I decided to write about that not knowing (which begins with not noticing) and for my form-- 
I took the shape of this tower:

Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon

What does a democracy have to do
to get noticed in this town? 
How could I—
walking, as I do, in my city—
America’s capitol city—
not notice a hundred-foot shaft
of Tennessee marble, host
to twenty-seven pedal-struck bells?

Not notice
the bells are a carillon— 
(which must, therefore, number
more than twenty-three— 
or be deemed but a chime.)

Not notice the bourdon,
a booming seven tons of bell—
(and also the word for the droning 
largest pipe of a organ, and the word
for bumblebee, and some clever soul
pinched the word for a fizzy drink 
that will—you guessed it— get you buzzed.)

Perhaps because noticing
leads you, on and on, 
(until your ears ring.)

So I walk again to the carillon.
It is true. Solid. There. 
Isn’t it?  

After all, these bells
honor President Taft’s son—
(WHO?—well, he served in the Senate, 
I’m told— he sought the Presidency
three times—oh, did he?)
—now I’m on unsteady ground

but—with a bit of noticing—
I see his life rang out to his fellow Senators— 
(this is the Capitol grounds, after all—
and these bells are “a summons
but noticing this, I feel 
a great silence—

I dig again, to ease
the unease.

Carillons, they say, rose here after war,
an echo of those in Europe
where they were exceedingly noticed,
for the Nazis (hungry for metal)
stole all the bells—(classifying their worth
from Grade A to D) melting
the most unworthy into weapons.
Bells upon bells upon bells
were heaped in Glockenfriedhöfe—

bell cemeteries. 

Oh, how that noticing, now googled,
in hot pursuit of those two words, unearths more—
that (in some cemeteries and times past)
well, you know…someone didn’t
notice they weren’t really dead,
weren’t really lost—

are we?

I walk back to the carillon,
to what we command,
(by Senate Concurrent Resolution 25)
to be sounded with song every July Fourth,
at two in the afternoon.

I’ve never noticed it, you know—
not the *carillonist (chosen
by the Architect of the Capitol)
issuing forth his yearly Anthem,
his America the Beautiful—

wasn't she?

the hourly strike,
the daily clamor,
the steady keeping of time—
and not even that, if my mind
is elsewhere—

            ----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved) 

I'm guessing he gets into the tower by this official looking back door: 

My poetry sisters are posting about bells here:


If you’d like to write to our theme for next month, we are going with “poetry inspired by something overheard.” Our friend Susan Thomsen at Chicken Spaghetti has done several of these as a form of “found poem,” and it seemed like a fun challenge. Here's a link to one of Susan’s poems.

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Carol's Corner



  1. Wow. So much here--the Nazi heaps of bells and the bell cemeteries (I have a sister who's got a phobia about being buried alive--I should send her a bell?) and all the history...It all brought me back to Mary Oliver: "Attention is the beginning of devotion." If we're devoted to democracy, we'd better pay more attention to it. Even people like me, who aren't inherently "interested" in the world of politics, but who want freedom and justice. Goodness. I'll be thinking on this one for a while, Sara.

  2. Sara, so much research. So much information. You make me think about how much I don't notice, both about my surroundings and my world. Can't wait to read the rest of the Poetry Sisters work...

  3. I think you finally rang that bell, Sara. I love that you shared the research in all sorts of ways like those 'bell cemeteries' - Nazi destroyers always. I think I first knew about the carillons from a Dorothy Sayers mystery, & perhaps it doesn't apply to yours, but in her book, the bells are named & each ringing means something. Happy New Year!

  4. This is just the coolest. I love that it's just this TOWER right in the middle of everything, not softened by a building or elevated by a steeple. It's just there, saying "walk right up to me." What a cool carillon.

    A "summons to integrity and courage" is a bell I'd hear rung every single day.

  5. My many times have I walked past this and not noticed the carillon on Capitol Hill? Writing from a place of not knowing...only you could make that as cool as this poem. Wowza. Somehow, this is a poem I want to read again on 1/6. Yes, she was beautiful. I hope she can become so again.

  6. This is a remarkable poem! All the bells melted to make weapons. So much to think about. I used to live in D.C. for four years and never new about the Carillon. I heard about grave bells when I visited Charleston and learned of the fear people once had about being buried alive. I wonder how many lives were saved by that clever little apparatus attached to a thought-to-be-deceased finger?

  7. SARA. Okay, number one: how did I not know all this time that we are NEIGHBORS? Why did I think you lived in Texas or some such? Number two: this is one of my favorite kinds of poems, where the research is transparent, where the learning is on display, but then there is the layer of "how it all connects and becomes meaningful" which you accomplish with just those little quiet italicized lines. You embodied the silent reverberation of the once-a-year playing of this carillon. Let me come down from Bethesda and let's meet there some time soon!

    1. Sara, this research of yours is amazing. I love how you inserted research all throughout. I never heard of bell cemeteries before. I will need to look for the Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon when in Washington one day (when the pandemic is only a faint memory). In my hometown on Long Island the cathedral bells were such an uplifting sound when they rang. Have a great beginning to the new year.

  8. I love how you managed to get ALL of your research into this poem, and thread it all together (or maybe stack it up, since it's a tower) into something so wise.


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