Who Is Responsible for the Quote, “Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls, It Tolls for Thee”?

John Donne first wrote the words, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” It is the last part of a longer passage in Mediation XVII of his “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.”

The passage from which this quote is taken begins with another famous phrase: “No man is an island.” It has to do with death and the interconnectedness of humanity. Some believe that it means that each time a person hears a funeral bell, he is that much closer to his own death. Others feel that the meaning is that humanity is all one, and when one person dies, a part of each living person dies as well.

Ernest Hemingway made “for whom the bell tolls” famous when he used the quote as the title of a book that is set during the Spanish Civil War. The entire passage appears in the book’s epigraph.