For Whom The Bell Tolls – John Donne

7 04 2010

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, that he does not know it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, that they who are about me may have caused it to toll for me, and I do not realise it.

All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all… The bell tolls for him that thinks it does; and though it toll again, from that minute he is united to God.

When any man is buried, that action concerns me. 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 peninsula were, as well as if a house of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; for it tolls for thee.

Neither can we call this a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, and take upon us the misery of our neighbours. Although it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction.

If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not pay his way as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except that we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it.

Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in him as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him. But this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me, if by this consideration of another’s danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

John Donne

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2 responses

17 04 2010
sarahkiwi

“when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.”

I really love this bit, thanks for putting it up!

31 05 2010
Quinton McCauley

Thanks for the comment!

That passage was my favourite bit in the whole piece as well. The poetic / metaphorical beauty of those lines blew me away – I think I actually got goosebumps when I heard it! Of course it helped as well that the guy reading it out was a very dramatic, skilful presenter with an English accent you just could not ignore. I loved it and decided to look it up – that’s how it got onto here 🙂

I just put up a new post about the Goo Goo Dolls song “Iris” – love it so much as I was listening to it this morning, and listening to the words for the first time ever.

Hope things are well in Japan! It’s cold and wintery-wet over here 🙂

Quinton

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