A Glimpse of John Donne

The National Portrait Gallery in London has a wonderful portrait of John Donne, painted around 1595 when he was in his early twenties.  I had always imagined Donne as someone without a sense of humor, but this image of him is almost Byronic, as romantic as an Elizabethan painting can get.

I was confronted by John Donne this morning, outside a grocery store.  He shambled sideways across the road, calling to me.

“Excuse me, excuse me, can I talk to you?”

He wasn’t drunk … yet;  it was only 10 in the morning.

“It’s just that I’m homeless, and somebody stole my backpack  –”

“Are you asking me for money?”

He seemed surprised by my question.  Perhaps I should have listened to his spiel —  it was, after all,  a game of sorts.

“Umm, yes,” he said, hesitantly.

In the silence, life continued: traffic, a bird twittering somewhere overhead, the rise and fall of voices around the corner.

No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man

is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;

if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe

is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as

well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine

owne were; any mans death diminishes me,

because I am involved in Mankinde;

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

I reached into my purse.

“Is this OK with you?  Is this OK?”  He edged away from me, staring at the bill in his hand.

I heard John Donne this morning; was this what he meant?