Sarah Viney on John Donne's "Devotions: Meditation 17"

Published by admin_main on Mon 11 Oct, 2010

25. This selection emphasizes the union of all human beings. But focus more particularly on the relationship that Donne tries to establish with his audience: how does he establish that relationship, and in what does it consist?

Donne establishes a relationship with his audience by forming the notion that he is linked with all humans through God. He uses several every day events and examples, church specifically, to establish his connection with the audience. He states, "The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all." In this sentence Donne is insisting that all men linked through the church, are in turn linked to one another. He goes on to state, "When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body (church) whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: 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."

Donne's relationship with his audience is solidified in this previous statement. Donne is using these examples in order to simplify the responsibilities to God and humanity, because these are events that happen in every day life for mankind, he is affected. When a child is baptized, it makes the church stronger, and as a member of the church, Donne in turn, is stronger. He later states, "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." The idea of the passing bell, and not knowing for whom it rings, brings Donne closer to his audience, because every time the bell does ring, he is affected, because, according to Donne, we are part of a whole, and with every death, each individual is affected through association -- every time an individual passes, it affects his family, and neighbors, and the domino effect is brought into play, affecting everyone.

26. Is the emphasis in this devotion more on the union of one person with all others, or on the union of one person with God? Or are both equally stressed? Explain.

I believe that his emphases on the union of one person to God and with all others are both equally stressed. Donne states, "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." In this line it is clear that although death is brought upon others in many different ways, God has a hand in all of it, and has the power to bring each of us together. Donne wants it to be emphasized that God brings us all together. When something affects one person it affects us all, because we are part of mankind. So, if one person is hungry -- it is Donne's concern, because that individual is part of the whole. Since his hunger affects the whole, it affects Donne -- therefore, his hunger belongs to Donne. Again, if the bell is tolling for death -- even if it is a stranger's death -- that death belongs to Donne, because we are part of a whole. So, when the bell tolls, it tolls, not just for the individual being called to pass, but also for us all to feel the pain of the individual's death whether it is directly or indirectly.


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