Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"RING OUT WILD BELLS": Peter O'Toole Got It

I haven't seen How to Steal a Million in forever, but when I did as a kid I remember Peter O'Toole exuberantly shouting "Ring Out Wild Bells" at the end when the alarms are all going off all over the place. He said it with such conviction, like he really knew what it meant beyond a line of dialogue in a movie. I remember my mom saying that it was Tennyson, which I filed away until college, when I looked it up.

When O'Toole died I was surprised there is no clip of the scene on YouTube, but someone posted

When I'm feeling blue this is one of my go to movies for comfort!! "Ring out wild bells!!"

on FlickChick's FB page, so I'm not the only one it made an impression on.

The line is from Lord Tennyson's long elegiac poem In Memoriam, written over 17 years to cope with the sudden death of Arthur Henry Hallam, who was his sister's fiancé, at age 22.

It's most famous lines are

    'Tis better to have loved and lost
    Than never to have loved at all.

But it has the most glorious of New Year's lines,

    The year is dying in the night;
    Ring out, wild bells, and let him die

Real European church bells are a force of nature. They are like nothing I ever heard of in my suburban upbringing.  The first bells I heard where at Solesmes, in France, where I met Cadfael. I could not get over the magnitude of their glorious sound, the depth of feeling they can summon.

Tradition says that Tennyson's lines came upon hearing the bells at the Abbey Church of Waltham Holy Cross and St. Lawrence. It's a church with many distinctions, including being an 11th century pilgrimage site; having Thomas Tallis as the organist in the 16th century; and being the last of the Catholic monasteries to be closed or "dissolved" by Henry VIII during the Reformation.


 Listen to the amazing bells from Waltham that someone kindly filmed:

    Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
    The flying cloud, the frosty light
    The year is dying in the night;
    Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

    Ring out the old, ring in the new,
    Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
    The year is going, let him go;
    Ring out the false, ring in the true.

    Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
    For those that here we see no more,
    Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
    Ring in redress to all mankind.

    Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
    The faithless coldness of the times;
    Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
    But ring the fuller minstrel in.

    Ring out false pride in place and blood,
    The civic slander and the spite;
    Ring in the love of truth and right,
    Ring in the common love of good.

    Ring in the valiant man and free,
    The larger heart the kindlier hand;
    Ring out the darkness of the land,
    Ring in the Christ that is to be.