The Farmer's Wife: Line from song brings back memories


I'm often surprised at the way music from my past is imbedded in this old brain.  

Not just lullabies I sang to my kids, but popular songs from the Fifties, and occasionally, lyrics sung in high school choirs and small groups.  Such a song is No Man is an Island.

We celebrated All Saint's Day this past Sunday. And our pastoral intern, who grew up in this church and whose own father has been gone for a number of years, based his sermon on the fact that often, at the start of a funeral, the church bell tolls. Since we don't actually have a bell in a steeple, one of the large bells used by the bell choir sounds as the names of those who have died in the past year are read.

As the famous poem ends, we are not to ask “for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”  Or, as pastor Dan said, “it tolls for thee, for you, for me.” He accomplished his goal of helping us remember those we have lost and to focus on the fact that our lives on this earth are brief in the total scheme of things.

But while he was extemporizing on this subject, a line that started, “No man is an island,” kept buzzing around in my memory. By the time I got home, I had remembered most of the words. But to be sure, and to fill in the blanks, I went to my faithful Wikipedia. The first arrangement that came up was by The Lettermen. I'm not sure I even remembered a group called that, but they had a smooth, harmonious arrangement that brought it all back.

“No man is an island, no man stands alone. Each man's grief is grief to me, each man's joy is my own. We need one another, so I will defend, each man as my brother, each man as my friend!:”  Short and sweet, that's for sure..

I was surprised to see how many choral groups have recorded this, and many have been in the last twenty years. Since it was something I sang in high school, I did not expect to see it still around.  I think it's partly the words; they do say some important things. And, also, it's an easy choral piece, and sounds really good when sung by a group.

The poem is by John Donne. I knew that, but I knew little about John Donne. Again, to wiki, where I learned he was writing in the 1600s. A long time ago. He did become a priest and many of his later poems were religious in nature. So, a poem about bells tolling. Then, of course, Hemingway used it as a title for one of his best known books; I know I read it a long time ago, but it did not come back to me the way the song did. 

It proved to me once again of the power of music, and of the way we recall words set to music.  Of course, now, the song is an earworm; I need to find something else!