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No man is an Island, entire of itself

From an excerpt by Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

What does the line mean? Does it count as a proverb?

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  • A proverb from Proverbs (Bible) or just a a proverb? Jul 13, 2013 at 17:18

4 Answers 4

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No, it's not a proverb. It's a quotation, and it was written not by Francis Bacon, but by John Donne. It’s from his Meditation XVII. Its meaning is perhaps apparent in the continuation, closing with the famous words that gave Ernest Hemingway the title of one of his books:

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 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.

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    Though it may be a quotation no man is an island is entrenched in English as a proverb. Every proverb had to be started by someone, and others who repeated it were quoting that someone.
    – Kaz
    Mar 2, 2013 at 10:05
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    @Kaz. The OED’s definition of a proverb is ‘a short, traditional, and pithy saying; a concise sentence, typically metaphorical or alliterative in form, stating a general truth or piece of advice; an adage or maxim’, so you might say that that makes the Donne quotation a proverb. I wouldn’t. Because its authorship is so readily identifiable, it seems to make more sense to describe it as a quotation. Otherwise, where does it end? Are all well-known quotations to be described as proverbs? Mar 2, 2013 at 10:28
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    Quite a few proverbs were co-authored by Solomon. Mar 2, 2013 at 10:45
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    @Edwin Ashworth. The authorship of the scriptures cannot be so confidently asserted as the authorship of the works of the English canon. Mar 2, 2013 at 10:50
  • @BarrieEngland: While it is good to give credit where credit is due--and scholarly pursuits can be helpful, to make a fetish of finding the source of memorable words can be unprofitable and clearly less important than grasping the meaning and significance of those words. How they speak wisdom to the human condition, and through their power enhance and affirm the dignity of the human race, far surpasses in importance the search for who wrote (or spoke) precisely what and where and when. The power of words to edify, instruct, inspire, and comfort should ever be our primary focus. Amen. May 8, 2013 at 17:39
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It means human can not get along with their lives alone and succeed, and we are all dependent on other people and we need them. We can't thrive just by being alone.

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It means that since we live in a cooperative and interdependent society, your actions will always affect someone else. The only way for your actions to affect no one but yourself is to live alone on an island.

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"No Man is an Island" means that man is a social being that cannot exist without his fellows. No one is self-sufficient and everyone relies on another for survival.

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