What are the different allusions used by John Donne in the poem "The Relic"?
“The Relic” by John Donne uses religious, archaic, and cultural allusions in order to portray the relationship between the poet and his pious “Mary Magdalen” (line 17). The poem is broken into three stanzas, the first of which discusses the rather macabre moment when the poet will be rediscovered by a gravedigger. The second and final stanzas discuss the honorable and even mystical nature of their relationship, concluding with a catalog of their miracles.
In lines 1 through 4, when the poet states that his “grave [will be] broke up again/ [for] Some second guest to entertain,” he is referring to the practice of gravediggers reusing plots for multiple corpses. This practice can also be seen in Hamlet when Ophelia is buried in the grave of the jester Yorick. The poet declares this convention a “woman-head,” the archaic form of “womanhood,” in that it is a female trait to take in more than one man in a bed (line 3).
The poet states that the gravedigger will then find a “bracelet of bright hair about the bone” (line 6). This is a reference to the Elizabethan practice of keeping momento mori, or remembrance of death, of a loved one. It is this last, vibrant artifact that the poet feels will allow them to be reunited on the “last busy day,” an allusion to Judgment Day (line 10).
In the second stanza, Donne makes clear that the saint worship he is referring to is taking place in a country of “mis-devotion” (line 13). In other words, this poem is occurring in a country apart from England both physically and theologically. In the era...
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