Day By Day

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Relique Revisited

Last week archaeologists digging near Mantua announced a remarkable discovery, the skeletons of a neolithic man and woman entwined in a lovers' embrace [story here]. This immediately brought to mind John Donne's great metaphysical poem, "The Relique," in which lovers are interred together, the burial testifying to a Platonic love that transcends even death.

When my grave is broke up againe
Some second ghest to entertaine1,
(For graves have learn’d that woman-head
To be to more then one a Bed)
And he that digs it, spies
A bracelet of bright haire about the bone,
Will he not let’us alone,
And thinke that there a loving couple lies,
Who thought that this device might be some way
To make their soules, at the last busie day2,
Meet at this grave, and make a little stay?

A bit more thought brought to mind Andrew Marvell's Petrarchian response to Donne idealism in his "To a Coy Mistress":

Thy Beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble Vault, shall sound
My echoing Song: then Worms shall try
That long preserv'd Virginity:
And you quaint Honour turns to dust;
And into ashes all my Lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Obviously, they do. The circumstances of their burial, however, may have been quite different from the philosophical maundering of poets. Some reports had it that both bodies bore signs of having been murdered.

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