The Relic Poem by John Donne Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


“The Relic” is a poem by eminent poet John Donne. It is a beautiful poem that brings out the purity associated with the concept of love. 

About the Poet:

John Donne (1572-1631) was a prominent English poet and scholar. A cleric in the Church of England, he was considered the greatest of the metaphysical poets at that time. Famous works of his include ‘The Flea’, ‘Holy Sonnets’, and ‘The Sun Rising’.


This poem is divided into 3 stanzas consisting of 11 lines each. It follows the rhyme scheme ‘aabbcddefff’. 

Explanation of the Stanzas:

Stanza 1:

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?

The poem begins with an ominous start. The persona begins by stating how when his “grave is broken up again” to entertain “some second guest”, that persona would find “A bracelet of bright hair” along with the bones. In between, the poet cheekily comments how women, like the “second guest” head to “more than one a bed”. After bemoaning being disturbed, he states how this person would find a “loving couple” together in that dug-up grave and think how they were together even in death, on “the last busy day” the Judgement day.

Stanza 2:

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.


The persona declares that should their remains be dug up in “a time, or land/ Where mis-devotion” or absence of faith ran amok, then their grave digger would take them to “the bishop, and the king” and try to make them as “antique relics”. The persona further humorously feels that this person would make the persona’s beloved “Mary Magdelene” and himself a nobody. The persona also states how men and women shall “adore” them and their love. He ends the stanza by stating how should it be an age where “miracles are sought”, then he’d have such an age “taught” by his poem what real miracles the couple had “wrought”. 

Stanza 3: 

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.

Their first miracle is that they “lov’d well and faithfully”, without even fully understanding “what” or “why”. In fact, they did not even know the difference between their sexes, save for a chaste kiss “Perchance”. Their hands never touched each other in any place that the latest law had “injured” nature upon. The poem ends on an exquisite note where the persona states that none of these miracles could compare with the miracle that “she was”, so much so that even his words fail to express it. 


This is a fine poem. Save for the slightly misogynistic beginning, it magnificently brings out how love can be pure and wholesome, based entirely on the connection of the soul, devoid of the physical pleasures of the body.