Rule of Three


The Bells

by Edmund Dulac
Book illustration

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Beatific deities are carried on the blue breeze of dusk. Silver-skinned and butterfly-winged, the ascending spirits hark to a heavenly hymn. Dark green velvet silhouettes close down the sky for night. Beyond the souls’ airborne gait, a pearl moon hums a metre of low light. Furling iron ivies lean into its lunar gravity. The hour grows colder, chrysalis corrupts to moth, angels warp into eagles. Their foul cry curdles as the eve’s necrosis escalates. Cadences collapse and clash; clanging chimes collide. Harmonies ring on, their moans shattering our mettle: ‘They can only shriek, shriek / Out of tune.’

Words by Elizabeth Brown

On Handling Some Small Shells from the Windward Islands

by May Swenson

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We join May Swenson on a shoreline stroll, stopping as the poet stoops to gather some seashells. Accompanied by onomatopoeic assonance, she rolls them about in her palm, savouring the satisfying sound that they produce. The clean crunch of the sand beneath our feet is replaced by the clink of coins, the tinkle of crickets, the click of crystal and bone. In the absence of the creatures that they used to house, the shells gain a life of their own. They are ‘smoother than skin’, ‘clean as a tooth’, ‘colored like flesh’, drawing us into their coiled labyrinth with their ‘sly inviting smile’.

Words by John Wadsworth

Spiegel im Spiegel

by Arvo Pärt

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An F major chord carefully unravels in second inversion, a trio of pitches ascending into the piano’s high register, neat and unhurried. This simple, meditative crotchet motion repeats, crocheted continuously for the ten-minute duration of Spiegel im Spiegel. Spun from a seemingly endless skein, it resonates for our ears only. Throughout, octave pairs and lonely, single notes are loosely interspersed, providing a stable pedal and the metallic gleam of needle to thread. A doleful violin slowly weaves its way through the fabric being formed. As we listen, we hear sounds reflected, mirrored many times over, unwinding sonic filaments reaching towards infinity.

Words by John Wadsworth

More to discover

The Bells: You can see a series of illustrations by Edmund Dulac from the same book (Edgar Allan Poe: The Bells and other Poems) here. You can read Poe's 'The Bells' here.

On Handling Some Small Shells from the Windward Islands: You can read the poem here (on page 199), or here (as an image of its original publication in The New Yorker). If you would like to know more about May Swenson, you can access Paul Crumbley & Patricia M. Gantt's book Body My House: May Swenson's Work and Life here.

Spiegel im Spiegel: You can listen to the composition here, watch a conversation between Arvo Pärt and Björk for a BBC documentary here, and read an introduction to the composer by Tom Service for The Guardian.

Today's connection

Edgar Allan Poe coined the word 'tintinnabular' in his poem 'The Bells', which was illustrated by Edmund Dulac. May Swenson used it in her poem 'On Handling Some Small Shells from the Windward Islands', and it is used to describe a period of Arvo Pärt's compositional output (of which Spiegel im Spiegel is arguably the best-known piece). 

Question of the day

Which bell-related artworks would you recommend?
Let us know on Facebook, Patreon, or Twitter.

Rostov Chimes, an album by the bellringing group of the same name. (→)

– John Wadsworth, Silent Frame's Editor-in-Chief (via Patreon →)

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