For whom the bell tolls

There’s a whole language of church bells, with different configurations tolling not just the news of the hour but also such news as the death of a church member — with three times three bells denoting a man and three times two bells a woman, with other combinations of doleful knells telling the date and very hour of death, as well as the age of the dearly and lately departed.

But the midnight bells from a nearby church are not a sad thing to me. They’re welcome, not feared. When I hear the bells, I hear the comfort of tradition. I hear the old bells, and I think (of course) of the poem by John Donne about for whom the bell tolls, but mostly each deep tone sounds like a lullaby, a song of goodnight — balancing the tree frog’s trill, complementing the cricket’s castanets, echoing the gentle percussion of a distant approaching storm.

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