Thursday, February 18, 2010

Theme Thursday - Bell

Upon a Ring of Bells

Bells have wide mouths and tongues, but are too weak,
Have they not help, to sing, or talk or speak.
But if you move them they will mak't appear,
By speaking they'l make all the Town to hear.

When Ringers handle them with Art and Skill,
They then the ears of their Observers fill,
With such brave Notes, they ting and tang so well
As to out strip all with their ding, dong, Bell.
These Bells are like the Powers of my Soul;
Their Clappers to the Passions of my mind;
The Ropes by which my Bells are made to tole,
Are Promises (I by experience find.)

My body is the Steeple where they hang,
My graces they which do ring ev'ry Bell:
Nor is there any thing gives such a tang,
When by these Ropes these Ringers ring them well.

Let not my Bells these Ringers want, nor Ropes;
Yea let them have room for to swing and sway:
To toss themselves deny them not their Scopes.
Lord! in my Steeple give them room to play.

If they do tole, ring out, or chime all in,
They drown the tempting tinckling Voice of Vice:
Lord! when my Bells have gone, my Soul has bin
As 'twere a tumbling in this Paradice!

Or if these Ringers do the Changes ring,
Upon my Bells, they do such Musick make,
My Soul then (Lord) cannot but bounce and sing,
So greatly her they with their Musick take.

But Boys (my Lusts) into my Belfry go,
And pull these Ropes, but do no Musick make
They rather turn my Bells by what they do,
Or by disorder make my Steeple shake.

Then, Lord! I pray thee keep my Belfry Key,
Let none but Graces meddle with these Ropes:
And when these naughty Boys come, say them Nay.
From such Ringers of Musick there's no hopes.

O Lord! If thy poor Child might have his will,
And might his meaning freely to thee tell;
He never of this Musick has his fill,
There's nothing to him like thy ding, dong, Bell.

– John Bunyan, 1628 - 1688

[Bell photos (all in Newport): top - St. Peter Lutheran; middle - the old Swedish Lutheran church on Corné St., now a private residence; bottom - the clock tower on the stables on Dixon St.]

This week's videos deal with change ringing, the uniquely British practice of ringing large bells in mathematical patterns rather than trying to play tunes on them. The theory is that the bells are too big and too resonant to move fast enough to play actual tunes, so in the 17th century a method of ringing a full complement of 6 to 8 bells in a moderately tuneful fashion. Bells rung by the change ringing system create a rippling, ever-changing cascade of sound and can be fascinating. The method has even been immortalized in popular literature; in 1934 Dorothy L. Sayers published The Nine Tailors, considered by many (including me) to be her best novel, a story written around change ringing. It seems that Lord Peter Wimsey was a veteran ringer, although, surprisingly, Bunter was not (probably the only thing the man couldn't do).

So here are some videos to introduce you to the fine art of change ringing. The first is sort of a general introduction to the art featuring the bells and ringers of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

And this video is of a change ringing practice in St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate in the City of London. I picked this because of the loveliness of the pattern created, and especially the cascading feel of the pattern.

Barry gets a full peal of Kent Treble Bob Major as he leaves the hospital today.

Photos and prose text © 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger


  1. Great post, Roy. I learned a bit, too. I love change ringing. I did a brief YouTube search; you can see I came up with something quite different, but bell related nonetheless. Happy TT!

  2. great rhyme...and the ringing of the bells in mathmatical equation is really interesting

  3. The Bells, by Poe, is still one of my favorite poems of all time.

    Intriguing. I like Dorothy L. Sayers (and I dislike mysteries as a rule, but I find Whimsy and Bunter so charming), but Nine Tailors was one of my least favorite. Maybe because it was the most mystery-like. Interesting.

    I've been meaning to reread the whole series.

  4. My interest is peaked for The Nine Tailors, since several mentioned it on my blog, as well. I'm adding it to my must read list, that's now trailing to the floor!

  5. Very nice mix of photos and videos, Roy.

  6. Wow! Never read Bunyan( not that his works are easy to find ); but this is a grand piece, it is. Well done sir :)

  7. 'featuring the bells and ringers of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.'

    I never knew a thing about it until now - thanks for posting this!

  8. The Ringing Of British Bells Has The Added Bonus Of Helping The Muscles Pull Pints Of Beer Afterwards!

  9. Now this Change FASCINATING. I do not think I have ever been schooled in this...thank you.

    Ringing for Barry at 2!

  10. Excellent post as always Roy... and a nice photo collection of bells!

  11. Learnt a lot here, all interesting, and love the photos as always.

  12. wonderfully informative post.. wonderful mix of your photos - of course newport has some great old bells and the explanation of change ringing, which I've heard but never 'studied' as such.

    and how has that dorothy sayers slipped by me - at least it's not ringing a bell.

  13. Just re-read it a month or so ago. I knew you'd go there this week. :)

    Love all the minor characters. All so well done. "And you, Wally Pratt, mind what you're about!"

  14. Fascinating as always. I remember bell ringers at a small church near where my Grandma lived, they practised on Wednesday evenings, such a lovely way to go to sleep! We don't hear them often enough out here. Only the big cathedrals have them and I suspect they're mechanical rather than hand pulled.

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