What Is the Summary of “Meditation 17” by John Donne?

In his “Meditation 17,” John Donne writes of death and tribulation as well as the intertwining of all mankind. He was himself near death when he wrote it, but he writes of the meaning that each person’s death has to the rest of mankind. He wrote “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind….”

The meditation opens with the fact that no one ever knows for sure for whom the death bell is tolling. Donne admits that it indeed is possible that it is tolling for him. He affirms that the church is one body, and everything that happens in that body, from baptism to burial, affects him as a member of the body. When one dies, he is not torn out but translated into a better chapter. Many things bring about that translation, from illness or age to war or justice. He states that all people have one author, God, who eventually brings all the pages back into His book. In the meantime, all die and need to be ready for that inevitability. It is not an event to be met with dread because it means a person “is united to God.”

“No man is an island, entire of itself,” writes Donne. The loss of one is a loss to all. He says that to feel that way is not borrowing trouble but instead claiming one’s place among men. He speaks of the good things that affliction brings to the lives of man. Affliction makes a person better, and without it, man is not “fit” to meet God. He urges man to learn from the mistakes of others and to make things right with God “who is our only security.”