Donne's Poetry

1769 Words8 Pages
Write a close reading of John Donne’s “The Relic”. Think about what the poem is about (content), how it is written (form and structure), and why, to what effect (the relation between form and content). You may like to refer to Cleanth Brooks’ essay, “The Formalists,” for inspiration.

This essay will look at the form, structure and content of “The Relic” in an attempt to offer an explanation as to what the poem is about. It will examine the metaphysical poets, and discuss the techniques employed by them to express their views. “The Relic” consists of three 11-line stanzas which incorporate tetrameter (four metrical feet), pentameter (five metrical feet) and two tri-meter (three metrical feet) lines per stanza. It is written
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This telescoping of images and multiplied associations [...] is one of the sources of the vitality of their language. (p 1099) If we look again at line 8 of “The Relic”, it is noticeable that the gravedigger would only ‘think that there a loving couple lies,’ (l.8). It would be logical to assume that a husband would be buried with his wife, so the use of ‘think’ (l.8) is puzzling. By following this with the apparently polysemous ‘lies,’ (l.8) the poem could be read differently, altering the entire meaning to suggest that their love was only a fantasy. Another characteristic of metaphysical poetry is its tendency to use religious imagery to express its views. Towards the end of the first stanza, “The Relic” introduces the concept of ‘their souls, at the last busy day,’ (l.10). This has been interpreted as a veiled reference to judgement day and leads the reader smoothly into the second stanza where the images of death are replaced with a high lexical density of religious vocabulary. Donne uses lexis such as ‘mis-devotion’ and ‘doth command’ (l.13); ‘Bishop’ (l.15); ‘relics’ (l.16); ‘Mary Magdalen’ (l.17); and ‘miracles’ (ll.20-22) in order to extend the religious metaphor, introduced at the end of the first stanza, to evoke powerful images in the mind of the reader. Donne raises the question, in line 17,
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