The Relique by John Donne – Critical Analysis & Summary

The Relique Poem by John Donne Critical Analysis Summary

The Relique is one of Donne’s important poems in which love has been dealt with in different planes. Though it has been addressed to one Mr. Magdalene Herbert. The poem begins with a horrible situation. The poet sarcastically points out that the graves are dug to bury another dead body. He compares this grave action with those women who know the trick to entertain more than one person on their bed. These diggers, if find some bracelet of hair on his wrist, will think that this is the grave of a loving couple, and they are buried to meet on the Day of Judgement.

If such an incident happens during the heathen age, the bracelet will be brought to a king or bishop and the same will be recognized as a Relic and that too of Mary Magdalene who was the poet’s friend and benefactor. Such relics are usually worshipped by lovers for their miraculous powers. The later lovers, if they worship the relic, will become successful in their love. The idea leads to superstition.

In this poem “The Relique”, Donne deals with a platonic love relationship that does not depend on a sexual relationship. Their love is based purely on close affinity between the two souls. In the poet’s opinion, the lover and his beloved might have restrained their amorous activities to kissing only. Actually, Donne is referring to the courtship of Mary Magdalene before her marriage to Mr. Herbert.

Till Mrs. Magdalene Herbert was engrossed in love with her would-be-husband, it was basically courtship during which platonic love reigned over their hearts. This sort of love is indeed a miracle. It represents a mirror of souls where even the difference of sex is obliterated. The lovers at this stage do not know what do they love for and why do they love. The platonci love cannot be described because it is beyond the powers of language and communication.

Donne has succeeded in this poem to deal with the three-fold themes of love, death, and religion. These three subjects are interconnected to one another because the worship of the poet and his beloved as saints of love after their death is a concrete explanation of platonic love.

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