What are John Donne's themes in Meditation XVII?
Donne's principal theme in Meditation XVII is the interconnectedness of all people within the church. When the church baptizes a child, the action concerns him because "that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member." The same is true when the church buries a man, since "all mankind is of one author." This leads Donne to his famous conclusion that "No man is an island."
Another theme is the notion that "affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it." Donne explains that affliction brings us closer to God. God never gives any man more trouble than he can bear, and therefore the affliction is evidence that God has cared for him and made him strong.
Finally, the constant motif of tolling bells, which runs through the Meditation, accompanies the theme of spiritual awareness. Donne says that the man for whom the bell tolls may be too ill to be conscious of it. However, we can hear the bell and should therefore reflect on what it can tell us, for there is certainly something of which it ought to remind us, whether this is our connection to other human beings or the consideration of the spiritual danger we are in, from which we can protect ourselves by making our recourse to God.
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