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John Donne's "Meditation XVII" from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624) includes the following well-known passage:

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.

Devotions was, and is, a prose work. It was published as prose during Donne's lifetime, and continues to be printed as prose in modern scholarly editions. Currently, however, this passage circulates as poetry. The top results of an online search for "No man is an island" do not include any that have the entire text of Meditation XVII. Instead, they surface several sites that present this one passage as a poem, with the lines broken up as follows:

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.

Examples:

Such a presentation is ahistorical, unmooring the passage from its context as a devotional work. It also misrepresents Donne's own poetry, which was always closed-form, never free verse using arbitrary line breaks that eschew rhyme and meter. Additionally, the passage lacks the metaphysical wit that is a conspicuous, even defining, feature of Donne's poetry.

So, when and why did this passage start being considered, presented, and read as poetry? I suspect that this is a relatively recent development attributable to the proliferation of websites. I'm hoping someone adept at trawling the Internet Archive will, with some research, be able to answer.

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    Something similar happened to the story of Mel as it bounced around the internet.
    – TRiG
    Mar 22 at 12:50
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Independent versifications

The versification of this passage from Donne predates the widespread use of the Internet, as you’ll see from the earliest examples below. Moreover, it looks as though multiple editors have independently decided to format the passage as verse. The evidence for this is that different editors have chosen different ways to break up the passage into lines. We would not expect this to happen if they were copying from some shared source. Here are two different eight-line versifications:

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.

Myrna Grant, ed. (1997) Poems for a Good and Happy Life, p. 104. Garden City: CrossAmerica.

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.

Mehmet Basci, ed. (2008). World Leaders’ Favourite Poems: a Book of Peace, p. 7. Cardigan: Parthian.

Two different nine-line versions:

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.

Jackie Morris, ed. (2006). Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, p.104. Cambridge: Barefoot Books.

No man is an island, entire of itself;
Everyman is a piece of the Continent, part of the main;
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less;
As well as if a promontary were;
As well as if a manor of thy friends, 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.

Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (1989). Because I am Involved, p. 111. Spectrum Books.

A seven-line version with an excision, identified by Peter Shor in comments:

No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
    a part of the main;
… 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.

Sarah Anne Stuart (1996). A Treasury of Poems, p. 221. New York: Galahad Books (1999). Ellipsis in original.

Manner of thine own

It is hard to trace the origin of these versifications because available search tools tend not to have any way of searching for line breaks, so that the rare versified versions of Donne’s text are buried among the common prose versions. However, if an editor happens to introduce a corruption at the same time as the versification, then the search tools become much more helpful. Here’s an example of such a corrupted text in the form of a fourteen-line versification:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each 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 manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Deborah Gaye, ed. (2010). Of Love and Hope, p. 152. London: Avalanche. Corruptions in bold.

Some of these changes might be defensible, but “manner” for “manor” and “thine friend” for “thy friend” are just embarrassing mistakes. But this version is rare and so more easily traceable. For example, here it appears in a novel:

The Sussex shore had been a haunt for smugglers. Towered over by the humps of the Seven Sisters and the knob of Beachy Head, pirates of old had hauled their contraband in through gaps in the cliff. The tales of these buccaneers provided J. M. Barrie with the inspiration for Captain Hook […] Lore like that cluttered Wyatt’s mind as he closed on the lonely cottage ahead. […] His epiphany was to recall John Donne, whose poem took on deeper meaning here at the rim:

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 manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Michael Slade (2008), Crucified, pp. 230–231. Sutton: Severn House.

In the context of a novel, the errors are excusable, since we are told that the protagonist is recalling this “poem” from memory. In particular, the substitution of “manner of thine own” for Donne’s “manor … of thine own” is just the kind of trick that memory can play, because the protagonist’s recollections of stories of smugglers and pirates could have brought to mind a speech from Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho!:

If it is ordained that thou shouldst advance the ends of the brotherhood by being shark-bitten, or flea-bitten, or bitten by sharpers, to the detriment of thy carnal wealth, or, shortly, to suffer any shame or torment whatsoever, even to strappado and scarpines, thou art bound to obey thy destiny, and not, after that vain Roman conceit, to choose the manner of thine own death, which is indeed only another sort of self-murder.

Charles Kingsley (1855). Westward Ho!, volume 2, p. 268. Cambridge: Macmillan.

On the Internet, this corruption can be traced using the Wayback Machine to this capture in July 2005, and on Google Books to A Purpose for Life: Service (2005) by Alexander Zax. Whether one of these is the original of the corrupted text, or whether both are copying from some yet older shared source, is impossible for me to say.

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    Thanks! This addresses the when part pretty comprehensively. Any speculations as to why? The passage gains nothing by being relineated as verse; one might argue both that it’s better as prose, and that it misrepresents Donne’s actual poetry.
    – verbose
    Mar 15 at 11:39
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    And from 1989, in Google snippet view (New Breed, Vol. 1, Issues 20-24). To see it, at least on my browser, search for "no man is an island" in the page this takes you to ... the link replaces the quotation marks with html code that Google books doesn't recognize.
    – Peter Shor
    Mar 15 at 13:14
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    @PeterShor James Thurber does the same thing, disguising poetry as prose, although his writing is quite stylised anyway.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 15 at 13:41
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    @PeterShor I actually think both the Donne passage and the Neimöller one read better as prose. My understanding is that the latter is not even a quotation or translation, it’s just a rendition of sentiments Neimöller often expressed.
    – verbose
    Mar 15 at 14:22
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    @gidds: Just for you, I added an example from 1989. Mar 15 at 21:09

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