Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Friday, September 12, 2014

Send not to know for whom the bell tolls ... it tolls for thee

The passage by John Donne supplied the title of Ernest Hemingway's
novel about the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War.
The 1943 film starred Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper.

Recent Plainfield events brought to mind a powerful and favorite passage from John Donne, the 17th century ecclesiastic and poet --

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.
Often cited as poetry, it actually comes from a series of prose pieces known as 'Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions' (Meditation XVII), written during the course of a serious illness in 1624.

While he lay delirious with fever and with little contact because caregivers were fearful of infection, Donne heard the bells of a neighboring church tolling for funerals.

Not knowing for whom they were being rung, he imagined that in fact the tolling may be to announce his own demise.

With his Catholic sensibility that all humanity is part of the Body of Christ, he extends the thought to recognize that the loss of any one is a loss to the entire body. We are all in this together, and whatever one does affects all.

The insight is important, even if it seems more modern to us than it really was. And of course, like any metaphor, it is a 'three-legged dog', nevertheless effective.

And a reminder that whatever others may do that impacts us, we alone are responsible for getting our own affairs in order.

Small wonder that Hemingway used the line for the title of his powerful novel about the Spanish Civil War.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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