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Broken into stanzas, the description of the scene in the churchyard given in lines 1-20 is as follows. Lines 1-4: the speaker observes the signs of a country day drawing to a close: a curfew bell ringing, herd of cattle moving across the pasture, a farm laborer returning home. The speaker is left alone to consider the isolation of the rural scene and carry out a somber tone he has begun in line one.
The somber tone continues: the speaker is not mournful, but contemplative, as he describes the peaceful landscape that surrounds him. He characterizes the air as having a "solemn stillness."
The sound of an owl hooting intrudes upon the evening quiet, which is considered complaining; in this context, the word does not mean "to whine" but "to express sorrow" and is even suggestive of grief.
Here our attention is drawn directly to the graves in the country churchyard and we are presented with two images of death. Line 14 describes the heaps of earth surrounding the graves of "rude Forefathers", and that they are laid in "cells," a term which reminds us of the quiet of a monastery, and that they "sleep."
If the "Forefathers" are sleeping, however, the speaker reminds us they will never again rise from their "beds" to hear the sounds of country life that the living do. The term "lowly beds" describes not only the modest graves in which the forefathers are buried, but the humble conditions that they endured when they were alive.
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