Donne wants us to start reflecting on our own mortality. Although we all know that one day we will pass on, it's not something that we like to think about all that much. But Donne, whose prose writings and poems are often concerned with death, thinks differently. For him, death reveals the fundamental unity of humanity. In our daily lives, we are separated from each other by religion, nationality, ethnicity, and gender. Yet death unites us; death is the great leveler that will finally bring that complete unity which stubbornly eludes us in our mortal lives.
In Donne's day it was commonplace for funerals to be accompanied by the tolling of a bell. Anyone passing by and hearing a funeral bell will doubtless have been curious to know the identity of the person being buried. Though perfectly natural, this is the response that Donne seeks to challenge. As we are all ultimately one, anyone's death, no matter how remote they may be from us, points towards our own inevitable demise. So when we hear the sound of the funeral bell, instead of inquiring as to the identity of the recently deceased, we should recognize that the bell tolls for each and every one of us. The bell, like Donne's Meditation, addresses us all.