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Meditation XVII: No man is an island...

"All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness....No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."


This famous meditation of Donne's puts forth two essential ideas which are representative of the Renaissance era in which it was written:

No man is an island, entire of itself...The idea that people are not isolated from one another, but that mankind is interconnected; and
Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for theeThe vivid awareness of mortality that seems a natural outgrowth of a time when death was the constant companion of life.
Donne brings these two themes together to affirm that any one man's death diminishes all of mankind, since all mankind is connected; yet that death itself is not so much to be feared as it at first seems. Join us in exploring these two main themes, which we have associated with the two controlling images of the meditation...the island and the bell.

Isolation: The Island

No man is an island, entire of itself

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...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind...

Mortality: The Bell

Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee

Perchance he for whom this bell tolls, may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me...may have caused it to toll for me...and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.