The Bell

Plantation bell ~ Uncle Henry’s Place, Moon Lake, Mississippi


Precisely when the bell arrived at Uncle Henry’s is hard to say. It may have been installed in 1926, during the property’s first incarnation as an Elks Lodge. It may have arrived later, after the property sold and became the Moon Lake Club.

There certainly is a chance both Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner saw the bell during their visits to Moon Lake. Both authors featured the colorful and storied club in their work — particularly Williams, who grew up in the area and visited the casino as a child — and both would have appreciated these lines by Pablo Neruda, resonant as the songs of the hidden and mysterious Delta.


This broken bell
still wants to sing:
the metal now is green,
the color of woods, this bell,
color of water in stone pools in the forest,
color of day in the leaves.
The bronze cracked and green,
the bell with its mouth open to the ground
and sleeping
was entangled in bindweed,
and the hard golden color of the bronze
turned the color of a frog:
it was the hands of water,
the dampness of the coast,
dealt green to the metal
and tenderness to the bell.
This broken bell
miserable in the rude thicket
of my wild garden,
green bell, wounded,
its scars immersed in the grass:
it calls to no one anymore, no one gathers
around its green goblet
except one butterfly that flutters
over the fallen metal and flies off, escaping
on yellow wings.

Esta campana rota
quiere sin embargo cantar:
el metal ahora es verde,
color de selva tiene la campana,
color de agua de estanques en el bosque,
color del día en las hojas.
El bronce roto y verde,
la campana de bruces
y dormida
fue enredada por las enredaderas,
y del color oro duro del bronce
pasó a color de rana:
fueron las manos del agua,
la humedad de la costa,
que dio verdura al metal,
ternura a la campana.
Esta campana rota
arrastrada en el brusco matorral
de mi jardín salvaje,
campana verde, herida,
hunde sus cicatrices en la hierba:
no llama a nadie más, no se congrega
junto a su copa verde
más que una mariposa que palpita
sobre el metal caído y vuela huyendo
con alas amarillas.


Comments always are welcome.
The poem is taken from The Sea and the Bell, written during Neruda’s last year of life and translated by William O’Daly.
For more history of the Moon Lake Casino and an account of my visit there, see my current post at The Task at Hand, titled “Moon Lake Legacies.”

31 thoughts on “The Bell

    1. Not at all. It simply was there, like the azaleas and dogwoods, and I took a single photo. At the time, it didn’t have any particular meaning, but when I found this Neruda poem, I thought of it immediately. I don’t know if Neruda had a particular bell in mind, but his lines certainly suit this one.

    1. I’d call it poignant rather than sad, but I agree that it has a certain tone. Since it was written near the end of his life, it makes sense that it would be particularly reflective. It brought to mind the line in Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” —

      “Ring the bells that still can ring
      Forget your perfect offering
      There is a crack, a crack in everything
      That’s how the light gets in.”

  1. I’m delighted to see some plantation bells have managed to avoid removal and destruction. While I sympathize with those who feel such items point to a dark part of our nation’s past, I believe it’s counter-productive to try to eradicate everything we don’t agree with. Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat the sins of our forefathers. There, now I’ll quietly slink off my soapbox and say I enjoyed your post and Neruda’s poem.

    1. Although I understand the ambivalence some people might have about plantations and bells, the truth is that bells like this still are in use — for warning, or simply to call people for meals. When I still was spending significant time in the hill country cabin I loved, I always knew to head up on the ridge when the nearest neighbor rang his bell — it meant the coffee pot was on, or he needed some help with something. And my best friend there still has a bell on a wooden, grapevine covered tower. She used it to call her husband from his shop down the hill while he still was alive; now, it summons her son-in-law. I do wonder who this bell might have called: no doubt field workers, but perhaps family and friends, too. In any case, I’m glad it’s been preserved.

    1. Rolling stones, and all that. Your comment reminded me of the word ‘mossback,’ and I realized I had no clue of its origin. One meaning, going back to 1872, referred to those from the Carolinas who hid out to avoid service in the Confederate army,and would have stayed out “till the moss grew on their backs.” Also: a designation for certain turtles and fish — the turtles make sense, but I wouldn’t have guessed the fish.

  2. That’s a particularly good photo of the bell, Linda. I would say that it wasn’t an easy thing to photograph with the colours blending into the background.

    1. It got a little help during processing, since it was taken in 2009 with a relatively cheap point and shoot camera, in a time when I still was given to mostly thoughtless snapshots. But I loved the photo, and was happy to be able to revive it enough to pair it with the poem; they fit one another wonderfully well.

  3. What a fine pairing you have assembled, Linda. Neruda’s poem is so expressive and fits this bell you’ve captured with amazing aptness.I hope the bell gets to ring on occasions so that all may appreciate its music.

    1. From the looks of things, I don’t think it had been rung in some time — but that may have changed. There are a lot of historically-minded people around there, and various festivals devoted to their literary heritage, so at least it’s not going to go for scrap metal. I’ve been wondering what’s happened to it; I may give someone a call.

      The poem/bell pairing is so perfect I had to dig out the photo when I read the poem. It wasn’t at all a good photo when I took it in 2009 — only a casual snapshot with a point-and-shoot. I remember almost dumping it from my files: lesson learned, with that one.

      1. When I first started with digital I would cull most of the lesser files and eventually learned not to do that after I remembered something significant that I realized could have been saved with new processing tools and skills. And storage is now so inexpensive that nothing gets trashed.

    1. Now you have me wondering whether a heavy coating of moss or lichens would affect the tone of the bell. I do think that a few signs of age are nice, especially the deep, rich tarnish that builds up. One of the biggest mistakes made by people who own bronze antiques, or who have bronze fittings on their boats, is to polish them up, all bright and shiny. It removes the very thing that gives them character.

      1. There is another Spanish writer who was very influential, Federico García Lorca, a poet, playwright, and theatre director. He had a tragic life as he was executed by Rebel faction forces at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War when he was only 38. His plays were mandatory reading in Hispanic countries.

        “Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter (1937)” is my favorite poem, and it’s been in English for many decades: (

        What’s interesting is the interpretation of the poem, what the bull represents and the bullfighter dying:
        ( I’m against bullfighting myself, but the poem is so rich in detail with its history and cultural tradition.

        I apologize. I know, it’s too long, but I thought I’d share it.

        1. Neither your comment nor the links were too long — I’ve heard of Lorca, and might even have read something by him, but this was very interesting. I haven’t had time to read the entire poem, but I did read your link, and a couple of other short critiques. I was especially caught by the mention of the bell-like refrain of “at five in the afternoon.”

          I’ve never been able to understand bullfighting, or the running of the bulls for that matter, but the traditions certainly are strong. In Brattleboro, Vermont, there’s a different tradition called The Strolling of the Heifers. This short description’s from their page:

          “Although inspired by Spain’s Running of the Bulls, the Stroll is just the opposite: a parade of friendly, ambling heifer calves, groomed to the nines, colorfully bedecked with hats and flowers, and led by future farmers from area schools and 4H club members.”

          I have a friend who was there a few years ago, and she says it’s a great event.

          1. I agree that ‘The Strolling of the Heifers’ is the total opposite of Spain’s traditional bullfights. The Spaniards also continue to celebrate the festival of San Fermín with ‘the running of the bulls’ which has been characterized as also cruel.

            1. Have you come across Munro Leaf’s famous book, The Story of Ferdinand? The story’s quite wonderful, and the history of the book itself is interesting. For example, it was banned in Spain and other countries for its apparent support of pacifism. I thought it interesting that it’s been in print continually since its publication in 1938. I remember getting my copy when I’d just started school, and I loved it.

            2. I am fairly well read, and much of its due to my parents, who began reading to me early, encouraged my very early reading, and never forbid books that were considered “above my age level.” It made a life-long difference.

    1. I had to do a little dodging and burning, but I was pleased with the way the photo turned out. Sometimes a little neglect — or a lot — adds a good bit of character to an object.

  4. There’s a bell in the Kremlin called the Czar’s Bell. Visitors are told that it is the largest bell in the world, but it cannot be rung because it is structurally unsound.

    1. I read that it was damaged in a fire, which put a crack in it. That put me in mind of Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem,” with the wonderful lines:

      “Ring the bells that still can ring
      Forget your perfect offering
      There is a crack in everything
      That’s how the light gets in.”

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