Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Hemingway’s 1940 epic war story, For Whom the Bell Tolls, provides glimpses into the author’s personal perspectives of the Spanish Civil War – and his bold, stark insights into war and politics, and killing, dying and the coming to terms with one’s mortality.  It is a novel preoccupied with death and, at the same time, with the nurturing of hope in the face of the atrocities of war.


Here are a dozen bons mots from the book:

  • Every one has to do what he can do according to how it can be truly done.
  • For what are we born if not to aid one another?
  • I am thee and thou art me and all of one is the other.
  • Everything you have is to give. Thou art a phenomenon of philosophy and an unfortunate man.
  • You have it now and that is all your whole life is; now. There is nothing else than now. There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. How old must you be before you know that? There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. This is how you live a life in two days. And if you stop complaining and asking for what you never will get, you will have a good life. A good life is not measured by any biblical span.
  • Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all other days that ever come depend on what you do today.
  • I think that after the war there will have to be some great penance done for the killing. If we no longer have religion after the war then I think there must be some form of civic penance organized that all may be cleansed from the killing or else we will never have a true and human basis for living. The killing is necessary, I know, but still the doing of it is very bad for a man and I think that, after all this is over and we have won the war, there must be a penance of some kind for the cleansing of us all.
  • How little we know of what there is to know. I wish that I were going to live a long time instead of going to die today because I have learned much about life in these four days; more, I think than in all other time. I’d like to be an old man to really know. I wonder if you keep on learning or if there is only a certain amount each man can understand. I thought I knew so many things that I know nothing of. I wish there was more time.
  • There isn’t any need to deny everything there’s been just because you are going to lose it. Don’t be like some damned snake with a broken back biting at itself; and your back isn’t broken either you hound. Wait until you’re hurt before you start to cry. Wait until the fight before you get angry. There’s lots of time for it in a fight. It will be some use to you in a fight.
  • Whether one has fear of it or not, one’s death is difficult to accept.
  • I hate to leave it (life) very much and I hope I have done some good in it.  I have tried to with what talent I had…. The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.
  • There is no one thing that’s true. It’s all true.


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