No man is an island,
entire of itself.
Each 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 thine own
or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls:
It tolls for thee.
Is this a comfort, or does it just make us more miserable?
Written by John Donne in 1624 it was originally part of a meditation he wrote in prose, but is generally appreciated these days as a poem. (Which does beg the question, what is a poem? ... but that is a question for another day.) For now, I offer up thoughts on the sentiment.
When a loved one has died, is it a comfort to know that others are saddened by the death. When someone dies - distantly related, or perhaps unknown through an earthquake, war, tsunami, drought - is it part of us that dies too? Is that what makes us so upset when we witness disasters on television? 'No man is an island': we are all part of the worldwide community and another's tragedy is to be taken as our own. Thus we grieve, we mourn with our friends in Japan, or Libya, or with the poor and malnourished.
What Donne doesn't mention is that we should also share the joys. There are many of these too. And I celebrate life today, as I see the sun shine form a clear blue sky, bright yellow daffodils waving lightly in the breeze, buds appearing on the trees. Spring has sprung. New life will rise again. Even in death, there can be joy.
For Linda, 1949-2011