Setting the Stage 

Listening to the poem The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe is a fitting way to introduce the themes of tonight's presentations on The Fall of the House of Usher. The poem was written by Poe while his wife Virginia was in the final throes of tuberculosis. The symbol of bells returns again in The Mask of the Red Death, as a reminder to the revelers that they can't ignore time. But the poem seems equally relevant in capturing the mind set of Roderick Usher. The frenzy, the drift, and then later the drive toward doom is evident; so too, is the jarring of the senses. Hypersensitivity to sound and light are present in both Usher and William Wilson. The bells indicate the pendulum of time swinging, setting off a series of events ending in oblivion. It is not so much the ideas of the poem, rather the pounding rhythm I would have you to appreciate.

Besides being a perfect example of onomatopoeia,this poem deals with the typical Poe theme of perception. In both tales, The Fall of the House of Usher and William Wilson, perception and whether or not to trust it is the central theme. It seems to take only a slight subjective alteration to have our senses deceive us. The conditions that accompany this distortion are clarified in Alan Parson's narrative introduction to The House of Usher.

 

"Shadows of shadows passing. It is now 1831, and as always I am absorbed with a delicate thought. It is how poetry has indefinite sensations, to which end music is an essential. Since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception, music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry. Music without the idea is simply music. Without music or an intriguing idea, colour becomes pallor, man becomes carcass, home becomes catacomb, and the dead are but for a moment motionless". -- Edgar Allan Poe

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