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What does John Donne mean with regard to the first sentence in "Meditation 17”?

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With regard to the first sentence in "Meditation 17”, John Donne means that someone may have death at their door and not even really know it. The first line of Meditation 17 reads:

“Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him.”

Donne is saying that someone may be very ill - this could be physically and/or mentally, as Donne does not specify here. He leaves it up to the reader to decide in this very first line, although the typical reasoning here would probably be thinking of someone who has an injury or disease or serious sickness. Nonetheless, mental illness can lead to a person’s death as well.

Regardless, Donne is saying...

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