Saturday, June 1, 2013

Analysis of "No Man is an Island" by John Donne

Original poem reprinted online here: "No Man is an Island" by John Donne
Originally read: February 21, 2013
More information about the Poet: John Donne

I only remember parts of this poem -- the beginning and the end -- "No man is an island," (which was told to me when I wanted to go "solo" in group projects, or outings, or like) and "For whom the bell tolls, / It tolls for thee."  (which was told to me as a reference for Ernest Hemingway's, Whom the Bell Tolls).  

So I thought, how simple.  The poem is about no one is alone in life, and...we are close to death?  What?  Going in to decipher this poem, I tried to apply both aspects to each other.  

For example, "No one is an individual, but part of a whole.  By choice of by force?).  As you can see here, I try to add a sinister undertone to the poem so I can justify the death line.  Or let's go in reverse.

I note this for the last lines, "The crux of the poem is the last line.  That the 'bell tolls' or 'certain death' is 'everyone's death' that should be felt.  A loss is a loss to all."  So I'm trying to generalize the end when there's a individual focus "it tolls for thee."

I'm not saying my interpretations are wrong, but they are influenced from what I want the lines to be -- I'm trying to morph them into a specific mold.  What I'll write next probably will another predispositioned analysis. 

In the beginning of the poem, the focus is on a philosophy -- not an actual person yet.  There's the sense of synecdoche built up that no man is an island, and a man is more like a piece of a continent -- "If a clod be washed away by the sea, / Europe is the less,"  note how the lines references Europe and not an individual country (England for example).  The speaker is talking about a whole land -- a continent (duh), but not a land mass continent -- more of a group of people.  

The actual "crux" of the poem is this line, "Each man's death diminishes me, / For I am involved in mankind,"  Here the speaker takes on an omnipotent prophetic role.  He himself is diminished and he himself is involved in mankind.  The speaker states he has more in stake with mankind -- or rather is diinishing

The last lines then has a sense of individual impotence, "Therefore, send not to know." I'm focusing on this line because the speaker is referring to someone, but who.

It's not until I read the meditation that was the foundation to this poem that I understood who the "thee" was.  Donne is referring to himself.  He is referring to that he's diminishing so much physically and metaphorically (based on the loss of each person in Europe) that the bell tolls for him.  (The meditation is coming up for this blog -- so I'll go into that some other time).

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