The Relic- Love, Superstition and John Donne

Enlightened (albeit conflicted) soul that John Donne was, he depicted with beautiful clarity the social psyche that prevailed in his time. This is precisely why it is lamentable,to say the least, that in a world where change is the only constant, intolerance to Love has stood the test of time and and wreaks havoc now as it did then. Perhaps even more so. With news of honour killings and instances of homophobia gracing our daily newspapers, it is gradually becoming evident, that our world is becoming uninhabitable by virtue of its denizens being inhospitable. That is, of course, assuming that it hasn’t become like that already. Perhaps this is why we devour pages with magic woven onto them by inky swirls and curlicues. After all, as Alexander Pope said, “Hope springs eternal”. We are humans;we are flawed; and we are all hoping for a miracle.
       When my grave is broke up again
       Some second guest to entertain,
       (For graves have learn’d that woman head,
       To be to more than one a bed)
                And he that digs it, spies
                A bracelet of bright hair about the bone,
                Will he not let’us alone,
And think that there a loving couple lies,
Who thought that this device might be some way
To make their souls, at the last busy day,
Meet at this grave, and make a little stay?
         If this fall in a time, or land,
         Where mis-devotion doth command,
         Then he, that digs us up, will bring
         Us to the bishop, and the king,
                To make us relics; then
                Thou shalt be a Mary Magdalen, and I
                A something else thereby;
All women shall adore us, and some men;
And since at such time miracles are sought,
I would have that age by this paper taught
What miracles we harmless lovers wrought.
         First, we lov’d well and faithfully,
         Yet knew not what we lov’d, nor why;
         Difference of sex no more we knew
         Than our guardian angels do;
                Coming and going, we
                Perchance might kiss, but not between those meals;
                Our hands ne’er touch’d the seals
Which nature, injur’d by late law, sets free;
These miracles we did, but now alas,
All measure, and all language, I should pass,
Should I tell what a miracle she was.

“I would have that age by this paper taught, What miracles we harmless lovers wrought.”

Donne and his poetry have since ages, borne testimony to ideas that our world seems unable to incorporate. It only shows the very nominal beauty that most orthodox groups wish to resist in order to maintain consistency in the social fabric. Love and superstition, the predominant stakeholders during both time and tide are two of the most prominent themes existing in Donne’s verse, The Relic.

Based on platonic love and reciprocation, Donne is appalled by the hypocritical state of societal existence. When the graves of two greatly troubled lovers, over whose attachment the society had blindly exercised prohibition, is dug again, Donne describes their glorification as though they’re relics.  Once troubled to the instance of never but per chancing upon a kiss, these lovers and their remains become objects of myth and superstition years later and are now revered irrespective of their perturbing past and times of trouble. Though rudimentary and simplistic in their existence, the lovers had only aimed at providence for their love, yet like in every age, they too were separated despite efforts.

As the world continued to worship their posthumous presence, the poet concludes by regarding the beloved as a spectacle despite the inability to have a chance at a lifetime with her. Their separation though unfortunate makes him believe further that the world would never have an opportunity to admire the kind of miracle she was and continues to be. With a strand of her hair wrapped around his wrist for posterity they continue to be nothing but glorified figments of imagination amongst the masses having nothing but conceded to societies impermeable resistance towards their unison.

About the poet

John Donne was born on January 22, 1572, in London, England. He is known as the founder of the Metaphysical poets, a term created by Samuel Johnson, an eighteenth-century English essayist, poet, and philosopher. Donne entered the world during a period of theological and political unrest for both England and France; a Protestant massacre occurred on Saint Bartholomew’s day in France; while in England, the Catholics were the persecuted minority. Born into a Roman Catholic family, Donne’s personal relationship with religion was tumultuous and passionate, and at the center of much of his poetry.At age twenty he studied law at Lincoln’s Inn. He studied at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities in his early teen years. He did not take a degree at either school, because to do so would have meant subscribing to the Thirty-nine Articles, the doctrine that defined Anglicanism.  Badass? Hells yeah!

The write up was prepared by Kainat Singh, Ist year.


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