Wednesday, 21 January 2009

No man is an island

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 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 bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
John Donne (1572-1631) - Meditation xvii

Yes, I’m feeling a bit morbid today. That happens occasionally when you reach my age. Each new death of someone with whom I am acquainted – either personally or by repute or in particularly tragic circumstances - diminishes me.

I had not really thought about this until recently but in the case of personal friends there is a special poignancy about losing the shared experiences. One might say that as long as the one left behind has the memories then the moments shared are not lost but in a way they are. There is no longer the other half – the part that also may have remembered that particular day of sunshine, that moment when the view from the castle was sparklingly clear, when the laughter in the coffee house was so heartfelt. The same can be said of friends with whom one has lost touch over the years but in that case there is always the hope that one may find them still alive and still with the same view of that shared moment.

When my Dad died in his nineties my Mum quite quickly decided that she didn’t want to bother hanging on in there any more and faded away. It was not necessarily that she couldn’t live without him, I think it was more that she had lost the last of the people who shared her memories. She was in her mid thirties when GB was born and everyone she had known up to that time was no longer alive. A third of a lifetime with no shared memories. Then another third of a lifetime in which the people who survived were so young that they had a totally different view of the events that had taken place. I think that despite being surrounded by a loving family she was lonely in away that only the very old or the totally friendless can be.

That best known piece of John Donne's works, quoted above, was published in 1624 under the title of Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. It was written when he was 52, not long after the death of his eighteen year old daughter and while convalescing from a serious illness. I don’t think someone younger than that could have expressed the feeling in quite the same way.

(Don’t worry – I’ll be back to my usual bouncy self tomorrow! Either that or I’ll keep out of your hair by not blogging...)


  1. Very melancholy thoughts today, sending me off on related paths of my own. I think you're right about the loss of someone who shares your memories. It makes you feel alone in a way nothing else can.

  2. Take your time, SS. So well put.

  3. John Donne still has so much to say, even in the digital age...

    I feel where you are today, SS. I am also wondering about C. Beth's Clark...

  4. A very poignant and thoughtful post. Please don't apologise for not being bouncy - no one can be bouncy all the time and the pensive melancholic moments are every bit as much a part of life as the bouncy ones. Possibly even more so.

    What you say about shared memories is so true, and that piece of Donne is just lovely.

    PS Thank you for your comment - I think you must have found my page via Elizabeth, who is a wonderful blogger.


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