"Ask no for who the bell tolls" is a famous cliche. My knowledge is that it comes from John Donne"s Meditation XVII (1623). However in Donne"s poem, the heat is

any man"s fatality diminishes me, since I am associated in mankind, and therefore never send to know because that whom the bell tolls; it tolls because that thee.

You are watching: Who first coined the phrase “for whom the bell tolls”?

So wherein did "ask not" come from? Is the a common mistake (or intended modernization) or is there another source for this quote?




I was curious to understand whether the "ask not" preface that world commonly affix to Donne"s original wording was an artifact the the at an early stage 1960s, probably under the influence of man Kennedy"s "Ask not what your nation can carry out for you" rhetoric in his inaugural deal with of January 20, 1961, or even if it is the cobbled-together wording came before Kennedy"s speech. To uncover out, ns ran Google publications searches because that the expression (in miscellaneous forms) from 1600 through 1961.

Clearing increase a misdated match

As noted by FumbleFingers in a comment in ~ the post question, a Google publications search for the now-familiar "Ask not..." type of the phrase returns a very early enhance allegedly from league of Wisconsin Municipalities, The Municipality (1936):

"No guy is an island, apart come himself.....so ask no for who the bell tolls, the tolls because that thee." man Dunne composed these lines two centuries ago. Yet they take on us today.

If the 1936 day were correct, this complement would antedate both Kennedy"s speech and also Hemingway"s novel, For whom the Bell Tolls (1940)—whose epigraph, by the way, price quotes Donne"s city accurately. Yet if you integrate snippets to expand the borders of the viewable message from the "1936" source, you"ll uncover that an earlier paragraph starts with a recommendation to "President-elect Nixon"—proof the the quoted language is in reality from a different and much later on source—specifically, indigenous Annual congress of Cities, volume 45 (1969). The Google publications match indigenous 1936 is based upon erroneous linkage in between the 1969 text and the title web page of an unrelated 1936 magazine collection.

Early confirmed matches because that "Ask no for who the bell tolls"

I mentioned earlier that the epigraph Hemingway offers for his novel estimates Donne accurately. So does the 1943 film variation of the novel (starring Gary Cooper and also Ingrid Bergman), follow to the IMDB listing because that the movie:

Opening credits prologue: any kind of mans death diminishes me, due to the fact that I am affiliated in Mankinde: and also therefore never send to understand For whom The Bell Tolls the tolls for thee.

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

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

Glancing end the headlines, I check out that: ... End 500 persons were arrested in Delaware because that Sunday blue regulation violations. Who arrested the cops? ... Connie Mack rates the Yanks the best team of every time. Ns wonder if anyone had the nerve to ask the what he thought of the A"s? ... Eighteen members the Bulgaria"s parliament voted versus Hitler"s occupation of the country. "Ask no for whom the bell tolls; the tolls for them" . . .

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

News the servicemen top top Campus told by the "Minnesota Daily" has what they hatchet "Vital Statistics: budding leaves, sprouting trees, gentle zephyrs and also sunny days are taking their toll. We have it on very reliable authority that miss out on Muriel Goldsmith and Pfc. Joe Cantor space on the verge the matrimony."

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

From "Quiz," in the day-to-day News (December 21, 1946):

9—You understand the book and also film title "For whom the Bell Tolls." here is the quotation from which it come "Ask no for who the bell tolls. That tolls for thee." who was the stclairdrake.net poet that wrote the poem ? Swinburne; Milton; Shakespeare; Donne; Shelley?

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

...in Spain room in prison. Therefore is the country. Ask not for who the bell tolls. The tolls for thee.

But it require not. It will not if the people organize for peace and also abundance behind the gradual Party and also Henry Wallace. It will not if the human being mobilize and also force president Truman come live as much as his campaign promises; to relocate for international peace, come liquidate the Taft Hartley Law, to terminate the cold war, to keep the bill of civil liberties for every Americans and also not just for this Americans v whom wall surface Street agrees.

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

MR. HAGSTRUM: i was fairly amused to review that ~ Hemingway"s For whom the Bell Tolls come out v its quotation from john Donne"s Devotions people pertained to the libraries and also wanted the complete works of man Donne. Right here was one book which influenced one more much in the same manner as a movie will affect the sale of the book.

MR. BUCHANAN: That"s since of "Ask no for who the bell tolls. That tolls for thee."

MR. HAGSTRUM: Exactly.

Confirmed matches indigenous the decade 1951–1960

Three the the 5 matches because that "ask not for who the bell tolls" that I found from the 1940s to be from university newspapers, along with one from an Australian newspaper quiz and also one indigenous an American politics screed. In the 1950s and in 1960, the wording appeared much much more frequently (I discovered sixteen instances of it) and also in a wider array of sources.

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

You probably remember Ernest Hemingway"s book of a couple of years ago entitled "FOR who THE BELL TOLLS." The theme was that once one man dies, a tiny bit of every mankind dies. The full quotation on which that based his story was, "Ask not for who the bell tolls, that tolls because that everyone." If something was ever true together it uses to company that certainly is true today. Years back the bell tolled because that the railroads. No one was an extremely frightened then, however as the bells toll for others we gain understanding and frightened comrades.

From Aircraft, volume 13 (1951) :

And the is a well known truth that because that the first four or five postwar year the tiny man knew small and cared less around how he might personally be affected by the previously counterparts that the violation of an obscure place called Korea or the usurping of an oil refinery in Abadan. To him, "ask not for who the bell tolls, that tolls because that thee", was just a gloomy quotation from a poem, not most likely to be understood 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 that on the Constitution, no one on the statute law, nor also on what Whitman phone call "the insolence of elected Persons". The blame will lie, no on the extension of federal power, however on the ordinary citizen that lies supine while he is being stripped that his most beneficial possessions. For what they have the right to do come one man, they can do to any other. "Ask no for whom the bells tolls. That tolls because that thee."

From New zealand Engineering, volume 7 (1952):

Hence, to protect against his dice of starvation, or his youngsters of an illness and malnutrition, has actually an appeal come us. The quotation from john Donne, indigenous which Hemingway took the title of his book, "For whom the Bell Tolls", appears to me to have especial relationship here: ". . . For ns am affiliated in all mankind. Ask not for who the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

We are all associated in every mankind.

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

There"ll be a hot time in the old city tonight (and tomorrow). We point out a few diversions that might succeed in dragging you far from the 3 r"s.

"Ask no for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." A series of PreCana Conferences for involved couples will start Monday evening, November Bth, in ~ St. Alphonsus Hall, blacksmith St., Roxbury. For details on this invaluable assist to a successful marriage, contact Mr. Or Mrs. Joseph Hanbury, 88 Calumet St., it is in 2-9281. Bookings are necessary.

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

"Man Is The brothers of male ..."

The poet speak a great truth when he said, "a part of all humanity and nothing the is human is extraterrestrial to me." You have heard it expressed in countless ways. One old proverb says, "Man is the brothers of man whether that likes that or not." john Donne said, "Ask no for who the bell tolls, that tolls for thee. " the is stated in numerous ways because, yet it is expressed, it is one of the good truths.

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

Mr. HOLTZMAN. ... Together no man have the right to be one island whole unto himself, for this reason no nation can stand apart and enjoy freedom while others room crushed by tyranny, for every bit of freedom that is lost everywhere in the human being makes every guy that much less free. In the words of man Donne, ask no "for whom the bell tolls. The tolls because that thee," wherever freedom is destroyed.

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

Mr. EDMONDSON. Mr. Speaker, it has actually been a privilege and an respect to offer in the house of Representatives v the gentleman from north Carolina, CHARLES DEANE. There is one old little of verse which consists of the words: Ask no for whom the bell tolls. That tolls for thee.

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

And so, ns tell you in the indigenous of the stclairdrake.net poet, if that dread mix ever hardens, then 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 of the annual Convention (1957):

We space not questioning for ourselves. I check out it someplace somewhere, and also I guess there to be a movie do someplace somewhere that they referred to as “A Bell for Adano."

Somebody said in that, i think, "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, because that the bell tolls for thee."

And that is why once there is a to win of the Dobb"s home workers, once there is a picket for the painters, once there is a picket top top for any type of union, the is her union ~ above fight, that is her union the is trying to live, that is the company you must support.

From Selections from Freedom, volume 6 (1957):

We recognise that as lengthy as we room careless of the wellness of others we carry out conditions inside both they and also we suffer. As Eugene Debs said: "While over there is a heart in prison, ns am not free" or man Donne: "Ask not for who the bell tolls : it tolls for thee."

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

Ask not For who The Bell Tolls

Mr. A. E. Jupp, C.S.D. (Co-operative productive Federation): ns speak as a delegate native the Co-operative abundant Federation. When I listened to the first couple of contributions to the conversation I started to wonder whether the Co-operative activity had offered up that is celebrated function of self-criticism for among self-castigation. The punishment meted out for guilty of omission in the past made me wonder even if it is we have to be so tired by that punishment regarding be can not to face the future.

From Punch, volume 236 (1958) :

Later (by wire):

IF NO answer TO MY last LETTER WITHIN 3 DAYS SHALL have NO OPTION yet TO i think IT WAS sent IN ERROR to EVENING typical STOP now THAT girlfriend HAVE acquired HAILSHAM under THERE ASK not FOR whom THE BELL TOLLS prevent WHAT ON earth CAN CHELTENHAM and also TUNBRIDGE WELLS BE reasoning OF you EXCLAMATION MARK

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

which will not confront up to the reality that we have actually 81,000 registered unemployed and also which will not recognize the tomb moral results of unemployment, the cancer in the heart of the community. We space reminded that the old proverb, "Ask no for who the bell tolls". Joblessness affects not just the worker yet every one in the community.

From Frederik Gruber, Aspects that Value (1959) :

Every separation, personal, instance in the totally free world wants, for himself at least, freedom, welfare, equality, and also peace: liberty both for individual self-realization and from oppressive governmental and organizational control; welfare for the search of happiness and also the an excellent life; equality and also the acknowledgment of human dignity and also worth together a material right from the Creator; and also peace in ~ the framework of autonomous liberty. Unfortunately, plenty of men space not encouraged of the "togetherness" around which Cowan writes, specifically in "The Magic Garden," nor, carry out we realize totally the impact of john Donne"s plea because that brotherhood in the lines, "Ask no for who the bell tolls. It tolls because that thee," or the neighborliness that the great Samaritan.

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


No man is an island, whole of itself—

Said man Donne‚ ...


Altogether, I uncovered twenty-one matches because that "Ask no for who the bell tolls" before 1961: 5 from the period 1941–1948 and also sixteen indigenous the period 1951–1960. The sources of these matches ranged from college newspaper reporters to speakers at profession associations and also union gatherings to politics commentators to (of course) chosen officials.

Purely on the communication of the moment sequence, I suspect that the ultimate reason of the misquotation that Donne"s verse to be Hemingway"s novel—not because it misquoted Donne, but since it popularized a previously rather obscure verse recognized to relatively couple of people, and it did therefore without completely repeating the initial wording for context. Presented through the fragment in Hemingway"s title, people supplied the "Ask not" prefatory words to ring the phrase into a complete sentence in a an easy yet solemn (not come say stilted) form.

By 1960, awareness of the expression in that is "Ask not" kind was widespread. The chronology shows that the was probably firmly established in popular society before Kennedy"s "Ask no what your nation can execute for you" inaugural speech of 1961. Indeed, if anything, it may have influenced Kennedy"s an option of his syntactically comparable phrase.

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Ultimately, i couldn"t find a solitary obvious resource of the "Ask not for whom the bell tolls" wording the would explain its well-known adoption. Rather, it appears to have occurred slowly, end a duration of years, as people unfamiliar or just slightly familiar with Donne"s initial wording came to think that the "Ask not" wording to be the original form of the phrase.