Bells for John Whiteside's Daughter by John Crowe Ransom: Summary and Analysis

Bells for John Whiteside's Daughter is written by famous poet and New Critic John Crowe Ransom in an elegy form lamenting the death of a lively small girl of his neighborhood.

John C. Ransom (1888-1974)

As this poem is an elegy, it dominates the traditional form of elegy where we find the nostalgic description of the past. The speaker recalls the speed in her little body, the lightness, the quarrel at home that used to resonate everywhere. And she used to play like the goose in her world. She used to make noise that attracted the attention of the neighbors. Her play with her own shadow was funny and childish. All this description seems to remind the beauty of the little girl who is now lying senseless and energy less. She has gone forever with the dead. The unexpected toll of the bells on the death of the little girl angers the neighbors. All the elegies end with consolation or acceptance of the truth. The speaker recalling the beauty of the dead girl feels sad. He becomes ready to offer the bells for her. This readiness for the bells is nothing more than the acceptance of the undeniable truth of the death.

The theme of the poem is the confrontation of human being with the death. Death is unavoidable and it is the ultimate truth of life. When someone unexpectedly faces the bells on the funeral, then they feel that they too are mortal and are near to death all the time. Death is the loss of the beauty of the vibrant life.

Ransom is the southern poet so he uses elegy as an opportunity to represent the southern culture. Getting together and offering bells are the parts of the southern culture in the poem. But at the same time this poem is interpreted not as an elegy on the death of a girl, but as an elegy for the passing of the beauty. Every beautiful thing is subject to decay and this poem is lamentation on the decay of the beauty.

In the historical point of view, this poem may have the different interpretation until World War II. The South was almost defeated; its beauty had gone now. Some of the people accepts what has gone, but commit to reenergize the lost beauty of the South. So this poem can be interpreted as the southern voice.

Related Topic

John Crowe Ransom: Biography