If A Clod Be Washed Away By The Sea

Though today we would not use the word ‘man’ as it is used in this famous poem by John Donne (1572-1631), we may, for the moment, justifiably dismiss this cultural difference so as to contemplate and absorb its full impact in light of the present climatic regime.

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 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.

It is not difficult to translate the entire poem to our own time and our own understanding. Though it would no longer be the beautiful poem that it is, we could easily substitute ‘human’ for ‘man,’ ‘our planetary civilization’ for ‘Europe,’ ‘rice farm’ for ‘manor,’ etc. Try it. Try it again.

Are we involved in mankind? Do we feel that the planet, and you and I, are diminished if a rice farmer in the Mekong Delta loses his entire farm to the rising sea, as is happening at this very moment in this extremely vulnerable region of the world.

Mekong Delta, Vietnam

In order to fully comprehend where we now live and the time we now live in, we must retrieve from our bones and blood a visceral and palpable sense that we are the planet, that our breath is its breath, and its breath ours, and that every person’s death, every person’s loss, diminishes us, every one of us. We must “become painfully aware.” We must “turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it (Laudato Si, Pope Francis).”

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee.

2 thoughts on “If A Clod Be Washed Away By The Sea

  1. Please supply examples of SPECIFIC places affected by rising seas other than storm surges which subsequently subside. I have never seen a list of such places yet, so I would like to know where they are.

    Liked by 1 person

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