Length: 5 minutes
Reader: Shawn Craig Smith
The essay: Donne's "Meditation XVII" is full of famous quotes: "All mankind is of one author and is one volume, ""No man is an island," and "Ask not for whom the bell tolls." As I listened, I found myself waiting for these greatest hits and missing the impact of the piece as a whole, ironically enough for an essay about the importance of the whole of mankind.
The meditation itself is surprising for the time it was written. Donne asserts that every human is a part of the larger brotherhood of mankind, and that we should feel the loss whenever any one dies. This death, he goes on to say, should not be seen as a detriment, but as gain since it reminds the one living to live his life well. Coming from someone in a time when a rigid class structure was in place, this brotherhood of man talk seems downright revolutionary. Of course, I'm not sure if Donne's brotherhood extended to non-white, non-Christian, non-European, or non-male humanity, but read as an all-inclusive embrace of mankind, it's an inspirational message.
Rating: 8 / 10
The reader: Smith is a gifted amateur reader who has the difficult task of breaking the archaic grammar of the 1600s into a speech pattern that is listenable for the modern audience. He largely succeeds at this formidable task, bringing the words of Donne to life. He speaks with a earnest note of pleading that reflects the persuasive tone of the essay. There is a bit of a metallic flatness in the recording, as if the pickup levels were too high, but it's not enough to harm the quality of the reading.
(Photo by Rudy A Giron. Creative Commons by attribution noncommercial share-alike.)