Not Quite Synonyms…

Synonyms. What if Hemingway’s book were For Whom the Bell Chimes? It wouldn’t be the same book. It would be about a happy love in village in northern Italy where the local church awakens the shepherds in the morning to take their sheep out into the hills and the nuns for early prayers. The chime of the bell follows the people throughout the day, giving structure to their lives, then sends them to bed at night.

A bell that chimes is a happy thing. The lovers (the local school teacher and a young man who’s returned from an education abroad) in the story would marry. As they walk out of the church, the bell would chime, and people will throw rice and the beaming bride will pretend to duck, and the groom will look proud. They’d live happily ever after, too. There’d be no crushing problems, no infidelity, no ill-starred anything.

I don’t think Hemingway could even write that story.

The chiming bell is impossible for John Donne’s meditation, too.

John Donne
Meditation 17
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

“No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee….” 

Hmmm… I’ll give this a shot.

“No person is an island. We all need each other… Uh…

Can’t do it. There’s no need to meditate on a chiming bell. A happy sound doesn’t demand that kind of revery or admonishment. All it’s going to inspire is, “Isn’t that lovely? I love to hear the church bells chime across the countryside.” I know they drive some people crazy, but I always like hearing them when I’m in Europe.

The sound of “toll” — even to the silence of our inner ear — tells us that a tolling bell is not  a happy bell while the sound of “chime” is no more painful that hitting the little bell to tell the dry cleaner you’re there to pick up your winter coat.


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