Poem: ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ by John Donne

Many people think that ‘For whom the bell tolls’ is a phrase coined by Hemingway. Not so.

In his famous novel set during the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway was quoting this poem by John Donne.

In a very direct and yet still poetic manner, Donne delivers the key idea of the poem: what happens to all of humanity happens to each of us individually.  The tolling of the funeral bells is a reminder that when someone— anyone— dies, we are all diminished.

These days, bells are seldom rung for funerals. It’s really only the famous or important – and they are different things in my mind – whose passing is announced in that way.  Yet every funeral I attend, or death notice I read, or social media post announcing someone’s passing, brings this poem to my mind.  

For Whom The Bell Tolls

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Photo by John Finkelstein on Pexels.com

Further reading:

Another of my favourites among Donne’s poetry is his Holy Sonnet 10, also known as Death, Be Not Proud, in which Death receives a blow to the ego.

Another poem about the tradition of ringing bells on important occasions is Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Bells’

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3 thoughts on “Poem: ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ by John Donne

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