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Subject: [DUNCAN-L] "No man is an island unto himself."
Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 22:02:46 EDT


A few years ago, I was walking through a cemetery, and I noticed a
headstone with the following quote above the personal information. It read,
"No man is an island unto himself." My curiosity was too much to bear, so I
went looking for the source of this interesting quote and found that it came
from English writer John Donne's "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions" written
in 1623-1624.
Perhaps no one chapter in English literature has produced two more famous
quotes than the two which came from Chapter 17 of this book. As Donne
listened to the bells from a nearby church softly ringing their death knell
for a departed soul, he acknowledged that they were ringing for him as well
because he would die someday. This inspired him to write the following
passage:
"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."
Twentieth Century grammarians have modernized Donne's original writings
into a more easily understood style of English literature and created this
quotation, "No man is an island unto himself," and the last sentence from the
above quote has been similarly modified to create this quotation, "Ask not
for whom the bells toll, for they toll for thee." Actually, I have seen both
of these quotations on headstones with the later being modified to, "Ask not
for whom the bells toll."
When Ernest Hemingway wrote his 1940 novel about the Spanish Civil War, he
titled his book, "For Whom the Bell Tolls," from this same John Donne work.
This title was in reference to the Spanish Patriots who died fighting in that
war.
Jim Webb

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