“No Man is an Island”(1) John Donne 1572 – 1631
“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.”
“The Death of the Hired Man”(2) Robert Frost 1874 – 1963
” Silas is back.’
She pushed him outward with her through the door
And shut it after her. ‘Be kind,’ she said.
She took the market things from Warren’s arms
And set them on the porch, then drew him down
To sit beside her on the wooden steps.
‘When was I ever anything but kind to him?
But I’ll not have the fellow back,’ he said.
‘I told him so last haying, didn’t I?
If he left then, I said, that ended it.
What good is he? Who else will harbor him
At his age for the little he can do?
What help he is there’s no depending on.
Off he goes always when I need him most.
He thinks he ought to earn a little pay,
Enough at least to buy tobacco with,
So he won’t have to beg and be beholden.
“All right,” I say, “I can’t afford to pay
Any fixed wages, though I wish I could.”
“Someone else can.” “Then someone else will have to.”
I shouldn’t mind his bettering himself
If that was what it was. You can be certain,
When he begins like that, there’s someone at him
Trying to coax him off with pocket-money,—
In haying time, when any help is scarce.
In winter he comes back to us. I’m done.’….
‘ Go, look, see for yourself.
But, Warren, please remember how it is:
He’s come to help you ditch the meadow.
He has a plan. You mustn’t laugh at him.
He may not speak of it, and then he may…..
Warren returned—too soon, it seemed to her,
Slipped to her side, caught up her hand and waited.
‘Warren,’ she questioned.
‘Dead,’ was all he answered.
Frost Study Guide (3)” Silas returns to the farm so that he can fulfill his broken contract to Warren and die honorably, having fulfilled his duty to the family and to the community. Silas’ return to the farm also signals the importance of the work that he performed on the farm as a way to give his life meaning and satisfaction. Silas does not have any children or close family to provide a sense of fulfillment in his last hours; only the sense of duty and the satisfaction of hard work can provide him with comfort.
Ironically, even after Silas’ attempt to die in the companionship of Mary and Warren, the people whom he views as family more than any others, he ultimately dies alone. Moreover, he dies without ever fulfilling his contract to ditch the meadow and clear the upper pasture. For all his attempts to fulfill his duty, achieve satisfaction through hard work, and find a sense of family, Silas’ efforts are unsuccessful. Even the way in which his death is introduced expresses its bleak isolation: Warren merely declares, “Dead.”
I have this friend — [When he was a young man, his alter ego was Gary Cooper in High Noon.(4)]. He considered: “The Beauty of Unbridled Individualism.” (5) My friend is a now in his “mature” years, living with his wife–comfortable in his quiet home, temperature and humidity controlled. meals prepared lovingly, an internist, a pulmonologist, a cardiologist, a nephrologist/ endocrinologist and an ophthalmologist. Replaced hip, a cardiac pacemaker, coronary stents and artificially implanted lens, RN case manager, and nurses aides. He is surrounded by a supporting family, extended family, and friends. This life. my friend’s life, is not the product of “unbridled individualism”(5)
My friend recognizes the contributors of his family; surrogate fathers, numerous teachers, and mentors catalogued in “You Could be Immortal”(6)
Here is the take-home message:
“Each individual is part of a nuclear family, which, in turn, is part of an extended family, which is part of a local community, which is part of larger groups of the human organization. The survival of the community requires far more than the individual. Reproductively speaking, individuals are incomplete.
“Just as importantly, we are also emotionally incomplete. Various psychological elements also connect us to the network. We obsessively need to be with others. We think of ourselves as individuals, but we are really just components of a network.” [Our “lifeboat” is not just many individuals, but an ever-expanding living network.] “The irrepressible force of life leaves no stone unturned in seeking ways to extend the invaluable larger Life [of which we are the stewards]. We obsessively need to be with others. We think we are separate, but we are one. We think of ourselves as individuals, but we are really just components of a network.
Life has a purpose; the purpose is the process; the process is the product. (7)
Charles Clanton Rogers, AB, MD, FACR. Emeritus Professor
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(1) John Donne (22 January 1572 – 31 March 1631) was an English poet and a cleric in the Church of England. He is considered the pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets.
(2) Robert Lee Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet. His work was initially published in England before it was published in America.
(3) Robert Frost: Poems Study Guide, Poems Robert Frost
As a poet, Robert Frost was significantly influenced by the emotions and events of everyday life. Within a seemingly banal event from an ordinary day—watching the ice weigh down the branches of a birch tree, mending the stones of a wall, or a tuft of flowers.
(4) High Noon, is a 1952 American Western film directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Gary Cooper.
(5) Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged is a 1957 novel by Ayn Rand. Rand’s fourth and last novel, it was also her longest, and the one she considered to be her magnum opus in the realm of fiction writing
(6) Charles C. Rogers, “You Could be Immortal.”
(7) Charles C. Rogers, ” Life is a Journey.”