No Man is an Island by John Donne

Intention: The intention of this essay is to demonstrate the idea that every human being is connected to one another, and the idea that when one person suffers, we all suffer with him/her.

One memorable quote from this essay is, “…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.” This quote is memorable because Donne uses the metaphor that each person is a part of a book and all the books have one author and inhabit one library. This image is significant because each book is “translated” by some issue that a person has faced during his/her life. This is also an appeal to pathos because the audience can relate to at least one the listed problems: age, sickness, war, justice, etc.

Audience: The intended audience for this piece is everyone. Every person, whether they believe in God or not, can understand and relate to this essay because it encompasses the whole of the human condition. John Donne emphasizes the connection all people have through the similar emotions and circumstances that they may have experienced in their lives.  Also, by repeating and emphasizing the prepositions, “we” and “our”, throughout the essay, Donne is able to include his entire audience within his piece and emphasize the relationship each person has with one another.

Ethos: Donne makes several appeals to ethos by referencing God and the Church.  He strengthens his appeal to ethos by explaining the church’s part in linking all people together, “the church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all.” This quote is significant because it establishes a connection between Donne and the believers of his audience.  Also, it is important to note that catholic means “universal” in Latin, which strengthens this appeal.  By referencing God, our omnipotent creator, Donne is emphasizing the all-mighty truth of this essay: humanity is united always.

–Hannah Wagner

 “Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we are not miserable enough ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, taking upon us the misery of neighbors.” This quotes stands out to me because it explains how people are tied together in their suffering.  It shows that people are not islands and like the church, suffering is universal and that we are all united in suffering.

Shaun David Hutchinson, a New York Times Bestselling author, gave a speech that directly referenced this essay.  He took Donne’s idea and gave a more modern spin on it.  Donne’s metaphor makes sense in his time, but Hutchinson relates it to modern times.  He says people are like skyscrapers.  We begin to build our walls around us at a young age going off of how we are raised and our experiences, leading us to believe that we are alone due to our differences.  Hutchinson says that as we build our skyscrapers higher and higher we begin to lose the ability to connect to other people who don’t live like we do.  He disputes the idea that “all of mankind is of one author, and is one volume” and says that we are each our own author and there are an infinite amount of volumes.

John Donne was a metaphysical poet.  Besides being philosophical, he also wrote about many other subjects.  His writing, this piece in particular influenced many other authors. This essay opens with “Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill”  and later says “therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls” both were used to inspire the title of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.  It also inspired Thomas Merton’s No Man Is An Island.

–Steph Lohbeck


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