For whom the Bell Tolls

John Donne 1572 (London) – 1631 (London)

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he
     knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so
     much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my
     state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.  The
     church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she
     does belongs to all.  When she baptizes a child, that action
     concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which
     is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member.
     And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is
     of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is
     not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language;
     and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several
     translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness,
     some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every
     translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves
     again for that library where every book shall lie open to one
     another.  As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not
     upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this
     bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the
     door by this sickness.  There was a contention as far as a suit (in
     which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were
     mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers
     first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring
     first that rose earliest.  If we understand aright the dignity of
     this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to
     make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be
     ours as well as his, whose indeed it is.  The bell doth toll for him
     that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that
     minute that this occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.
     Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes
     off his eye from a comet when that breaks out?  Who bends not his
     ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove
     it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this
     world?  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, as
     well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own 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.  Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing
     of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but
     must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the
     misery of our neighbours.  Truly it were an excusable covetousness
     if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath
     enough of it.  No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and
     ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction.  If a man
     carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none
     coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he
     travels.  Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not
     current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our
     home, heaven, by it.  Another man may be sick too, and sick to
     death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a
     mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his
     affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this
     consideration of another's danger I take mine own into
     contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my
     God, who is our only security.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on May 03, 2023

3:37 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic octameter
Characters 3,973
Words 719
Stanzas 1
Stanza Lengths 57

John Donne

John Donne was an English poet, satirist, lawyer and a cleric in the Church of England. more…

All John Donne poems | John Donne Books

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Discuss the poem For whom the Bell Tolls with the community...

  • joshyoung620
    I think he is comparing the church to a parent in this poem,
    LikeReply4 months ago
  • joshyoung620
    Anyone else think of the Metallica song?
    LikeReply4 months ago


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"For whom the Bell Tolls" STANDS4 LLC, 2024. Web. 19 May 2024. <>.

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