"Ask not for whom the bell tolls" is a renowned cliche. My understanding is that it comes from John Donne"s Meditation XVII (1623). But in Donne"s poem, the heat is

any man"s death diminishes me, since I am affiliated in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; the tolls for thee.

You are watching: Do not ask for whom the bell tolls meaning

So where did "ask not" come from? Is it a usual mistake (or intended modernization) or is there another resource for this quote?




I was curious to understand whether the "ask not" preface that human being commonly attach to Donne"s original wording to be an artifact that the early 1960s, maybe under the affect of john Kennedy"s "Ask not what your nation can perform for you" rhetoric in his inaugural resolve of January 20, 1961, or even if it is the cobbled-together wording preceded Kennedy"s speech. To discover out, ns ran Google publications searches because that the phrase (in assorted forms) native 1600 v 1961.

Clearing up a misdated match

As listed by FumbleFingers in a comment beneath the posted question, a Google books search because that the now-familiar "Ask not..." kind of the phrase returns a really early match allegedly from league of Wisconsin Municipalities, The Municipality (1936):

"No man is an island, apart to himself.....so ask not for who the bell tolls, it tolls because that thee." man Dunne wrote these lines two centuries ago. However they adopt us today.

If the 1936 day were correct, this complement would antedate both Kennedy"s speech and also Hemingway"s novel, For who the Bell Tolls (1940)—whose epigraph, through the way, price quotes Donne"s poem accurately. Yet if you combine snippets to prolong the limits of the viewable message from the "1936" source, you"ll discover that an earlier paragraph begins with a recommendation to "President-elect Nixon"—proof that the quoted language is actually from a different and also much later on source—specifically, from Annual conference of Cities, volume 45 (1969). The Google books match from 1936 is based on erroneous linkage in between the 1969 text and also the title page of one unrelated 1936 periodical collection.

Early shown matches for "Ask not for whom the bell tolls"

I mentioned earlier that the epigraph Hemingway provides for his novel price quotes Donne accurately. For this reason does the 1943 film version of the novel (starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman), according to the IMDB listing for the movie:

Opening credits prologue: any mans fatality diminishes me, due to the fact that I am affiliated in Mankinde: and also therefore never ever send to understand For who The Bell Tolls the tolls because that thee.

Nevertheless, legitimate matches for "ask not for who the bell tolls" begin popping up soon after Hemingway"s novel appeared.

From "Pinkett"s Prattle," in the Lincolnian (March 10, 1941):

Glancing end the headlines, I see that: ... Over 500 persons were arrested in Delaware because that Sunday blue regulation violations. Who arrested the cops? ... Connie Mack rates the Yanks the biggest team of every time. Ns wonder if anyone had the nerve come ask him what he thought of the A"s? ... Eighteen members the Bulgaria"s conference voted against Hitler"s occupation of that country. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls; that tolls for them" . . .

From "Exchanges: toll fee On, toll fee On," in the Vassar Miscellany News (June 7, 1944):

News the servicemen on Campus told by the "Minnesota Daily" consists of what they term "Vital Statistics: budding leaves, sprouting trees, gentle zephyrs and also sunny days space taking your toll. We have it on an extremely reliable government that miss out on Muriel Goldsmith and Pfc. Joe Cantor room on the verge of matrimony."

This use of the word "toll" appears to us unnecessarily lugubrious; that is moody connotations room infinite—"Ask not for who the bell tolls," and also "The curfew tolls the knell that parting day." We could continue.

From "Quiz," in the everyday News (December 21, 1946):

9—You understand the book and also film location "For whom the Bell Tolls." right here is the quotation indigenous which it comes "Ask not for who the bell tolls. It tolls because that thee." who was the benidormclubdeportivo.org poet that wrote the poem ? Swinburne; Milton; Shakespeare; Donne; Shelley?

From Richard Boyer, If This it is in Treason (1948) :

...in Spain are in prison. Therefore is the country. Ask no for whom the bell tolls. That tolls because that thee.

But it need not. It will certainly not if the civilization organize for peace and also abundance behind the gradual Party and Henry Wallace. It will not if the human being mobilize and force president Truman come live as much as his project promises; to relocate for international peace, come liquidate the Taft Hartley Law, to end the cold war, to preserve the invoice of legal rights for every Americans and also not just for these Americans with whom wall surface Street agrees.

From Northwestern college on the Air, the Reviewing Stand (1948) :

MR. HAGSTRUM: ns was fairly amused to check out that after ~ Hemingway"s For who the Bell Tolls come out through its quotation from man Donne"s Devotions people concerned the libraries and also wanted the finish works of man Donne. Right here was one publication which influenced another much in the same manner as a movie will influence the sale of the book.

MR. BUCHANAN: That"s due to the fact that of "Ask not for who the bell tolls. That tolls for thee."

MR. HAGSTRUM: Exactly.

Confirmed matches indigenous the te 1951–1960

Three that the five matches because that "ask not for who the bell tolls" that I uncovered from the 1940s to be from college newspapers, together with one indigenous an Australian newspaper quiz and also one from an American political screed. In the 1950s and in 1960, the wording showed up much an ext frequently (I uncovered sixteen instances of it) and in a more comprehensive array the sources.

From Official Proceedings the the new York railroad Club, volume 62 (1951) :

You more than likely remember Ernest Hemingway"s book of a couple of years earlier entitled "FOR whom THE BELL TOLLS." The design template was that when one guy dies, a small bit of all mankind dies. The complete quotation on which that based his story was, "Ask no for whom the bell tolls, the tolls because that everyone." If something was ever before true together it uses to organization that absolutely is true today. Years back the bell tolled because that the railroads. No one was really frightened then, however as the bells toll because that others we obtain understanding and also frightened comrades.

From Aircraft, volume 13 (1951) :

And the is a well known truth that for the an initial four or 5 postwar year the little man knew small and cared less around how he might personally be impacted by the previously counterparts that the violation of an obscure place called Korea or the usurping of an oil refinery in Abadan. Come him, "ask not for who the bell tolls, the tolls because that thee", was just a gloomy quotation from a poem, not most likely to be construed as a warning.

From The Election problems of 1952: A collection of Addresses and Papers (April 24, 1952) :

If American liberty is, in fact, being lost, don"t blame the on the Constitution, nor on the state law, nor also on what Whitman phone call "the insolence of chosen Persons". The blame will lie, not on the extension of commonwealth power, but on the plain citizen who lies supine while he is gift stripped the his most beneficial possessions. For what they deserve to do to one man, they can do to any other. "Ask no for who the bells tolls. That tolls for thee."

From New new zealand Engineering, volume 7 (1952):

Hence, to avoid his dice of starvation, or his kids of disease and malnutrition, has an appeal to us. The quotation from man Donne, indigenous which Hemingway take it the location of his book, "For who the Bell Tolls", appears to me to have especial relationship here: ". . . For ns am connected in every mankind. Ask no for whom the bell tolls. It tolls because that thee.

We room all involved in all mankind.

From "Tower come Town," in the Heights (November 5, 1954):

There"ll it is in a hot time in the old city tonight (and tomorrow). We mention a couple of diversions that could succeed in dragging you far from the three r"s.

"Ask not for who the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." A collection of PreCana Conferences for involved couples will begin Monday evening, November Bth, at St. Alphonsus Hall, blacksmith St., Roxbury. For details on this invaluable aid to a effective marriage, call Mr. Or Mrs. Joseph Hanbury, 88 Calumet St., it is in 2-9281. Reservations are necessary.

From Gladys Edwards, Not in the Stars (1945/1956) :

"Man Is The brothers of man ..."

The poet spoke a great truth as soon as he said, "a component of every humanity and also nothing that is person is alien to me." You have actually heard it expressed in numerous ways. An old proverb says, "Man is the brothers of male whether that likes it or not." john Donne said, "Ask no for who the bell tolls, it tolls because that thee. " that is claimed in numerous ways because, but it is expressed, it is just one of the good truths.

From "Addresses through Members the the home of Representatives," in The Lithuanian Situation (1956):

Mr. HOLTZMAN. ... As no man can be an island entire unto himself, so no country can was standing apart and also enjoy freedom while others are crushed by tyranny, because that every little bit of liberty that is lost everywhere in the civilization makes every male that much much less free. In the native of john Donne, ask not "for who the bell tolls. It tolls for thee," wherever liberty is destroyed.

From Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the ... Congress, volume 102 (1956) :

Mr. EDMONDSON. Mr. Speaker, it has been a privilege and an honor to offer in the house of Representatives with the gentleman from north Carolina, CHARLES DEANE. Over there is an old little bit of city which includes the words: Ask no for who the bell tolls. The tolls because that thee.

From Hollington Tong, What is Ahead because that China?: collection of Speeches, June 1956-February 1957 (1957) :

And so, i tell you in the indigenous of the benidormclubdeportivo.org poet, if that dread mix ever hardens, climate ask no for who the bell in Red China tolls. It will certainly toll because that you—for all of us!

From Georgia State AFL-CIO, Proceedings that the annual Convention (1957):

We space not questioning for ourselves. I review it someplace somewhere, and I guess there was a movie make someplace somewhere that they called “A Bell because that Adano."

Somebody said in that, ns think, "Ask not for who the bell tolls, for the bell tolls for thee."

And the is why as soon as there is a to win of the Dobb"s house workers, as soon as there is a picket for the painters, once there is a picket on for any kind of union, that is your union ~ above fight, that is her union the is trying come live, that is the organization you should support.

From Selections indigenous Freedom, volume 6 (1957):

We recognise that as lengthy as we space careless of the wellness of rather we administer conditions inside both they and we suffer. As Eugene Debs said: "While there is a spirit in prison, i am no free" or john Donne: "Ask not for who the bell tolls : that tolls for thee."

From cooperative Union, Report that the yearly Co-operative Congress (1958):

Ask not For whom The Bell Tolls

Mr. A. E. Jupp, C.S.D. (Co-operative fertile Federation): ns speak together a delegate indigenous the Co-operative productive Federation. As soon as I listened to the first couple of contributions come the conversation I began to wonder even if it is the Co-operative movement had provided up the celebrated role of self-criticism for one of self-castigation. The punishment meted out for sins of omission in the previous made me wonder even if it is we need to be so exhausted by that punishment as to be unable to face the future.

From Punch, volume 236 (1958) :

Later (by wire):


From Parliamentary arguments (Hansard): residence of Representatives, volume 14 (1959) :

which will not face up come the truth that we have actually 81,000 registered unemployed and also which will certainly not acknowledge the tomb moral impacts of unemployment, the cancer in the heart of the community. We room reminded of the old proverb, "Ask no for whom the bell tolls". Joblessness affects not only the worker yet every one in the community.

From Frederik Gruber, Aspects of Value (1959) :

Every separation, personal, instance in the cost-free world wants, for self at least, freedom, welfare, equality, and also peace: liberty both because that individual self-realization and from oppressive governmental and organizational control; welfare for the quest of happiness and also the great life; equality and the acknowledgment of human being dignity and worth together a material right from the Creator; and peace within the framework of autonomous liberty. Unfortunately, countless men room not convinced of the "togetherness" about which Cowan writes, particularly in "The Magic Garden," nor, do we realize completely the influence of man Donne"s plea for brotherhood in the lines, "Ask no for whom the bell tolls. The tolls because that thee," or the neighborliness of the good Samaritan.

And indigenous a decided of February 1, 1960, in Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates that the ... Congress, volume 106, part 2 (1960):


No man is one island, entire of itself—

Said man Donne‚ ...


Altogether, I uncovered twenty-one matches for "Ask not for whom the bell tolls" prior to 1961: 5 from the period 1941–1948 and sixteen indigenous the period 1951–1960. The sources of this matches ranged from college newspaper reporters to speakers at trade associations and union gatherings to political commentators come (of course) chosen officials.

Purely top top the basis of the time sequence, I suspect that the ultimate cause of the misquotation that Donne"s verse to be Hemingway"s novel—not since it misquoted Donne, but because it popularized a previously rather obscure verse well-known to relatively couple of people, and also it did therefore without completely repeating the initial wording for context. Presented with the fragment in Hemingway"s title, civilization supplied the "Ask not" prefatory indigenous to round the phrase into a finish sentence in a basic yet solemn (not come say stilted) form.

By 1960, awareness of the expression in the "Ask not" form was widespread. The chronology indicates that that was more than likely firmly created in popular society before Kennedy"s "Ask no what your nation can perform for you" inaugural decided of 1961. Indeed, if anything, the may have actually influenced Kennedy"s an option of his syntactically similar phrase.

See more: What Is It Called When Two Rivers Meet Called? What Is A Place Where Two Rivers Meet Called

Ultimately, ns couldn"t find a single obvious source of the "Ask no for who the bell tolls" wording the would describe its popular adoption. Rather, it appears to have developed slowly, over a duration of years, as human being unfamiliar or only slightly acquainted with Donne"s initial wording come to believe that the "Ask not" wording to be the original form of the phrase.