The School Bell Tolls

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Mostly Musings

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


Nope, sorry, John Donne. You’ve written a nice poem, but you’re wrong. The school bell does NOT toll for me. Not anymore. I am R-E-T-I-R-E-D. Mr. Donne, I am done.


Tomorrow is the first day of the new school year in Woodstock. It will mark the 15th time that school has started without me. How does that make me feel? Happy, mostly. Free and unencumbered, definitely. But just a little at loose ends, possibly.

I don’t miss the mountains of papers to grade, the never-ending lesson plans and meetings. Most of all, I don’t miss the feeling that I am responsible to so many for so much that I end up crushed under self-inflicted pressure to be perfect.

And yet… I do miss starting anew each fall, catching up with my colleagues, working with students who ask questions that challenge me, teaching in a sparking clean classroom. Having one more chance to get everything right—or at least better.

On the other hand, with retirement comes the great gift of time. If I feel like it, I have time to look up the entire poem that Donne’s quote comes from. Here it is:

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 manner 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.

Then, if I want, I can dig deeper and find the poem as Donne actually wrote it in 1624. It’s slower reading but satisfying to know I’m seeing his real words.

original poem

I can ponder the phrases and sentences. I can linger on key lines like: Each man’s death diminishes me/For I am involved in mankind.

And I can realize how timely the line is in light of the Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter slogans of our summer.


But when I reread this post, I notice something else. The book in my photo is by Ernest Hemingway, yet my quote is from John Donne. And I have no curious teenager here to shoot a hand in the air and ask why that is.

And, yeah, I guess I might miss teaching more than I thought.

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