For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls

by John Donne

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.

Summary of For Whom the Bell Tolls

  • Popularity of “For Whom the Bell Tolls”: This poem is actually an excerpt. It is borrowed from Donne’s “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions” published back in 1624. This work covers death, rebirth, and the Elizabethan concept of illness as God’s handiwork. This concise piece presents the poet’s opinion about the wholeness of mankind or unity of mankind. The main thrust of his argument of the unity of mankind has made this poem worth reading, and therefore, popular.
  • “For Whom the Bell Tolls” As a Representative of Reality: John Donne states his opinion about mankind. Taking it as an entity, he states that like a man who is not an island but part of a continent, mankind is a whole continent and all men are its parts. He is of the view that Europe is an entity equal to a clod washed away from the sea. It is the same case as a peninsula or a manor of some of his friends that are all part of the land. Similarly, when such a man dies, the poet feels that it has taken away some of his parts due to its being a part of mankind. Therefore, the tolling of bells means they are tolling for you and not for some anonymous person.
  • Major Themes in “For Whom the Bell Tolls”: Life, death, and the unity of mankind are three important themes of this excerpt. The poet first uses a metaphor of a continent for mankind, saying that not everyone is an island and that they are part of this continent which could be a small clod like that of Europe. Then he compares the same with a simile like that of a peninsula or a farmhouse, saying when the bells ring, they ring for a man and not for any anonymous person. Therefore, this shows the arrival of death, which impacts the life of the poet. In this death lies the unity of mankind.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in For Whom the Bell Tolls

John Donne’s use of various literary devices to enhance the intended impact of his poem shows his skills in writing poetry. Some of the major literary devices used here, as given below, show it amply.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /a/ in “No man is an island” and the sound of /o/ in “Therefore, send not to know.”
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession, such as the sound of /d/ in “death diminishes.”
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /m/ in “Each man’s death diminishes me” and the sound of /l/ in “For whom the bell tolls.”
  4. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;

Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

  1. Irony: Irony is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words. This poem is ironic in that tolling of the bells is for mankind, and each is part of it, yet only a single person dies. This is an implicit irony and not a direct one.
  2. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. John Donne has used imagery in this poem, such as “If a clod be washed away by the sea”, “As well as if a promontory were” and “For whom the bell tolls.”
  3. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects that are different in nature. The writer has used the metaphor of a continent for mankind and of an island for a man.
  4. Simile: It means to compare things directly to show their relationship. John Done has used a promontory and a manor to show comparison with man.
  5. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols such as an island, continent, promontory, and manor to show the collectivity of mankind and the death of a person.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in For Whom the Bell Tolls

Although poetic devices are part of literary devices, the poet sets the mood of the poem with poetic devices and meanings with literary devices. The analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem is as follows.

  1. Diction: It means the language and style of the language. This poem shows simple and formal diction at use in poetry.
  2. Free Verse: It means having no rhyme scheme or fixed metrical pattern. This excerpt, as it occurs in a prose piece, shows the use of free verse.
  3. Repetition: It means to repeat some words or phrases for impact. This poem or excerpt shows the use of repetition, such as of tolls in the last two verses.
  4. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. This excerpt is a single stanza of fourteen verses.

Quotes to be Used

The following lines are useful to quote when talking about the ringing of bells for the arrival of some sinister event and also to explain that death is inevitable.

For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.