|Today the circus poster
is scabbing off the concrete wall
and the children have forgotten
if they knew at all.
Father, do you remember?
Only the sound remains,
the distant thump of the good elephants,
the voice of the ancient lions
and how the bells
trembled for the flying man.
lifted to your high shoulder
or small at the rough legs of strangers,
was not afraid.
You held my hand
and were instant to explain
the three rings of danger.
Oh see the naughty clown
and the wild parade
while love love
love grew rings around me.
This was the sound where it began;
our breath pounding up to see
the flying man breast out
across the boarded sky
and climb the air.
I remember the color of music
and how forever
all the trembling bells of you
|A thousand doors ago
when I was a lonely kid
in a big house with four
garages and it was summer
as long as I could remember,
I lay on the lawn at night,
clover wrinkling under me,
the wise stars bedding over me,
my mother’s window a funnel
of yellow heat running out,
my father’s window, half shut,
an eye where sleepers pass,
and the boards of the house
were smooth and white as wax
and probably a million leaves
sailed on their strange stalks
as the crickets ticked together
and I, in my brand new body,
which was not a woman’s yet,
told the stars my questions
and thought God could really see
the heat and the painted light,
elbows, knees, dreams, goodnight.
1. What emotions did you feel as you read “The Bells”?
2. What prompts the speaker to remember the scene from her past? (How do her memories compare with your own, as recorded in your Quickwrite notes?)
3. According to line 6, what “remains”? Where does it remain, and why do you think it does so?
4. What feelings does the poem’s speaker remember? How would you describe the poem’s tone ?
5. “Rings” are mentioned twice in the poem. At first they are “rings of danger.” What do they become, and what is it that transforms them?
6. Describing a perception of one sense in terms of another sense is called synesthesia. What senses does Sexton mix in line 27?
7. One theme of the poem is conveyed with childlike simplicity in the last two lines. How would you paraphrase this message?
1. Is this a happy memory for the speaker? Compare it with the memory you described in the Quickwrite
2. Why do you think the speaker says her youth took place “a thousand doors ago”?
3. Identify the metaphors used to describe the windows. Do you think the metaphors reflect the speaker’s feelings about her mother and father? Explain your responses.
4. Describe the tone of the poem, as you “hear” it. Which words in the poem convey this tone?
5. Read the poem aloud, which Sexton recommended. Where would you pause slightly for breath and emphasis? Do you think the poem sounds like a young girl speaking?
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