Before the birth of modern medicine, life expectancy was significantly less than now. Many writers who struggled with the thought of a rather early death often wrote about their feelings on the subject. In "Meditation 17", John Donne offers his thoughts on death. He presents his thoughts with the use of an extended metaphor, which compares humanity to a book in which each person makes up a chapter. He uses this metaphor to help readers understand the main idea of this work. .
"Meditation 17" was written to invoke thought upon its central idea. In the beginning Donne attempts to grab the attention of his readers by warning that when a funeral bell is heard, the bell tolls not only for the dead one but also for every person who hears it. This establishes the central idea. When a member of the church dies, every person loses a small part of him or her own self. He goes on to explain that this is because, "the church is catholic" or embraces all human kind. This provides the base of several ideas that are used to support the main idea. .
The idea which is central to "Meditation 17" is simplified by the use of these supporting ideas. Donne first uses the example of the church baptizing a child. He compares the church to a human body. The church is connected to its members, just as the body is to all of its parts. Another example Donne uses is the process of a person's death, judgment, and admittance into heaven. He compares this process to the translation of a chapter in a book, into a better language. He explains that God employs many translators. Some of the chapters are translated by age and sickness while others are translated by war and justice. These translated chapters are then joined together to form books in a "library" for everyone to read. This "library" is heaven. By using this extended metaphor Donne tries to convince the reader that death is not a bad thing. Donne then reinforces his central idea that the church is catholic by giving a final example.