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"Men May Rise On Stepping-stones Of Their Dead Selves To Higher Things"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The poet faces the fact of death: his friend Arthur Hallam is gone from him forever. In his grief he despairingly toys with the word "death," referring to the saying that men may change, assuming new and better characters and personalities, and, in a sense, allowing their old selves to die; there is a kind of resurrection, as if men emerge from the corpses of their former beings and tread upon them as they leave the level of their past lives to climb to a higher one. The poet accepts this survival of "death," but asks how one is to rise above the real death of a loved one. And he can find no answer: this death is absolute loss.

I held it truth, with him who sings
To one clear harp in divers tones,
That men may rise on stepping-stones
Of their dead selves to higher things.
But who shall so forecast the years
And find in loss a gain to match?
Or reach a hand thro' time to catch
The far-off interest of tears?