for whom bell tolls

American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

for whom the bell tolls definition


An expression from a sermon by John Donne. Donne says that because we are all part of mankind, any person's death is a loss to all of us: “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.” The line also suggests that we all will die: the bell will toll for each one of us. (See No man is an island.)

Note: The twentieth-century American author Ernest Hemingway named a novel For Whom the Bell Tolls; the book is set during the Spanish Civil War.
The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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