By John Donne
John Donne was an English poet, lawyer, and a priest. He is considered as one of the main representatives of the metaphysical poets. His works include sonnets, love poetry, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, satires, and sermons. The Relic is one of his more famous individual lyric songs. It consists of three stanzas of eleven lines each. The stanza structure and rhyme pattern (aabbcddceee) are unusual. The final line of each stanza is written in iambic pentameter.
In the first line of the poem, we have a description of a horrible situation, as someone is digging the speaker’s grave. The second line explains that the reason for the digging is in order to bury another dead body. The following two lines are a dig at women’s faithfulness, because the speaker says that the grave has enough space for more people at the same time. After that, he says that the one who digs the grave will find a ‘bracelet of bright hair about the bone.’ What follows is the assumption that the digger will think that the grave belongs to a loving couple (the speaker and his beloved). The lovers left this “bracelet of hair” in the grave as a device which would help their souls meet there and be together for one last time, on the Day of Judgement. This concludes the first stanza.
The second stanza begins with the speaker suggesting that in some troubled time or land, someone may dig out the contents of the grave. In that case, that person will take the bracelet back to his king or bishop, and it would be recognized as a relic. The following lines pass on a strong message, as the speaker says that his beloved’s hair would be considered a relic of Mary Magdalen, while his own bones a relic of some other saint. All the women, and even some men, would worship those relics, because in such hard times, everyone wishes for objects with miraculous powers. So, the stanza ends with the...