"For Whom The Bell Tolls"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Through the winter of 1623, the Rev. John Donne was ill with so violent a fever that upon recovery he claimed a third birth, the previous ones being his "natural birth" and his "supernatural birth" as a minister. Each of the twenty-three stages of his illness became basis for a Devotion, consisting of Meditation, Expostulation, and Prayer. In them, the tolling of a bell, the sign of death, plays an important part. "Meditation 16" is especially concerned with bells. Later, in a sermon preached in 1628, he asked: "Is there any thinking man that in his chamber hears a bell tolling for another man and does not kneel down to pray for that dying man?" In "Meditation 17," it is the brotherhood of man that concerns Dr. Donne. That is why Ernest Hemingway (1898-1961) chose from it the title For Whom the Bell Tolls for his 1940 novel. What happened in Spain three years earlier was part of that crisis of the modern world in which we all have a share. Dr. Donne, stressing the dependence of each man on all his fellows, wrote:

. . . No man is an island, entire of itself; every man 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; . . . Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.