A long time ago, John Donne, a hoity-toity English chap, wrote the famous line “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Then Hemingway stole “for whom the bell tolls” for the title of a novel about a man who falls madly in love with a communist guerilla, blows up a bridge, and dies (all in three days). Then Metallica stole that phrase for a song title, which aptly describes the song’s melodic virtues–imagine inserting your head in a bell and letting someone toll away. Then a misfit farmer, piddling around in quarantine, used it for the title of a blog post.
That is the provenance of “for whom the bell tolls” as I know it. I’m sure others have used it, and I’m not sure why Taco Bell hasn’t–can’t you imagine the little chihuahua in a Hemingway-esque beret saying, “Yo quiero Taco Bell. The bell tolls for thee.”?
But the point here is it all started with Donne. He wrote it because he was gravely sick and thought the local Quasimodo was hankering to ring his funeral bells. Turns out, Donne lived. And then the next year, the plague happened, and he lived again. Before his near-death experiences, Donne was mostly known for writing rather raunchy poetry by Elizabethan standards. Then afterwards, he got down to brass tasks and started writing serious heady stuff at a prodigious rate.
Usually, I wholeheartedly embrace Donne’s advice, which is often modernized as “ask not for whom the bell tolls.” I pride myself on the don’t ask, don’t tell relationship I’ve cultivated with the Grim Reaper. But when I first got diagnosed with Covid, I had a moment of weakness and wondered if the Reaper was sharpening his scythe for me.
In hindsight, my Covid case was nothing close to a near-death experience, but I didn’t know that going in. At the onset was likely the nearest to death my mind has wandered since the time I clung to a twenty foot extension ladder, a swarm overhead. But the fact is Donne was right: asking is pointless. Our bell is tolling no matter what.
So hopefully something good will come from my days spent in quarantine introspection. Maybe I’ll get down to brass tacks and start writing serious heady stuff at a prodigious rate. Or maybe I’ll be a better dad and husband, call my parents and brother more, and quit being so cynical about the motivations of farm animals.
But my first goal is to be more grateful. Thus, I’d like to thank everybody who reads this blog and comments from time to time. I started The Misfit Farmer a little over a year ago and committed to post once a week as a way to get more disciplined with writing. I had always enjoyed Gene Logsdon’s blog, The Contrary Farmer, and admired how he posted once a week without fail for years. He died in 2018, but his blog is still archived for anyone who wants to go back and read his posts, which are full of a lot of farming and life wisdom.
I can’t say this blog is full of wisdom, but I am grateful for the merry little band of misfit bloggers that I’ve met through it (let’s face it, if you blog in 2021, you’re a bonafide misfit, too).
So thanks again everybody! Next week, I’ll be back to regularly-scheduled nonsense.