John Donne’s “No Man is an Island”

I have heard and used the phrase “No man is an island” often, but I don’t think I realized until today that it comes from a John Donne poem by the same name. (The poem also happens to be the source of one of Ernest Hemingway’s titles.)

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 bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Donne reminds us that as humans we are connected to one another. This is not only true of us as humans, however – I would suggest it is even more true of us as Christians. We all share a common humanity, but believers share a common Father, a common Savior, a common faith and a common destiny. We are one body, writes Paul in I Corinthians 12; “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (I Cor. 12:26). So the next time you pull to the side of the road as a funeral procession passes (one of the great traditions in the South; does it happen elsewhere as well?), remember that the funeral bell “tolls for thee,” the procession is for you. And when a brother or sister in Christ die (or suffer, for that matter), grieve with those who grieve, as you would grieve your own loss. For indeed, you have lost, you have suffered – though thanks be to God, in eternity all loss and suffering will be set right and restored perpetually.

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