Black and white islandUndoubtedly, the most famous section of John Donne’s Meditation XVII is the following:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man 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 manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

The first time I read the Meditations, I was struck by the fact that this little section, the section everyone knows, or at least the section that is vaguely familiar to most people if only from books and songs, is tucked away in the middle of the meditation, at the beginning of a much longer paragraph.

I think that it’s taken so often out of the context of the rest of the work because it has none of the religious elements of the rest of the work, but that is a shame. If you don’t have a negative reaction to spiritual texts (and believe me, I totally understand if you do), and if you’ve never read the entire Meditation, I urge you to do so. You can find here here.

If you’re confused about why this has been on my mind, you’re not paying attention.