Many of you know my love of literature, nurtured at UCLA long ago when an English major. This came back to mind the other day:
No man is an Island, intire of it selfe: every man
Is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod be 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.
No man is an island? For whom the bell tolls? Familiar despite the original Elizabethan spelling, isn’t it? Yes, Ernest Hemingway borrowed from John Donne for the title of his celebrated novel of the Spanish Civil War. Others have raided his original work to advantage for book titles.
Donne has endured over the centuries in English letters as the greatest of the “Metaphysical Poets,” a man of rare genius who still engages scholars and writers with his wit and power. His life itself went from wild to solemn, from rakish youth to distinguished clergyman in the Anglican Church, serving as Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London as well as a member of Parliament. His famous Seventeenth Meditation (excerpted above) remains one of the most eloquent expressions of Christian humanism ever written.
The other day I heard this Libertarian guy holding forth on the telly and imagined he might have a different take on Donne’s theme:
Each man is an island, entire of itself; no man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, tough shit for Europe, if it washes away thy neighbor’s manor, too fucking bad; just so it doesn’t splash on me;
Europe may be the less for it, as well as if a promontory were, as well as a manor of thy friends; just so mine own is spared; no man’s death diminishes me, because I am removed from mankind: And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; If I’m hearing it, It ain’t for me.
As they say, it takes all kinds.