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.
Today is the anniversary of John Donne’s death in 1631, and with the triggering of Article 50 making the headlines this week, this seems like a good occasion to share this piece. It was originally written as prose, not poetry, and forms part of a series of reflections known as “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions” after Donne had been seriously ill in 1624.
From an aspiring writer’s point of view, I’m a little bit awe-struck by John Donne – or indeed any writer – for coming up with phrases like ‘no man is an island’ and ‘for whom the bell tolls’ which have become such commonplace expressions in the English language. It’s strange to think that something written nearly 400 years ago could capture how succinctly how the news about Brexit is making me feel. To voluntarily separate ourselves from our closest neighbours – rejecting Donne’s premise that we are all ‘a piece of the continent’ – does truly diminish us. As Esteban Gonzalez Pons said this week, ‘Brexit is the most insidious way of saying goodbye’ . This week, the bell really does toll for us all.