Last Updated September 6, 2023.
In this poem, a lonely speaker laments that some people, presumably people for whom he cares, have “all gone into the world of light!” They have died, evidently, and he feels alone and abandoned with his sad thoughts. He compares his memory of them to stars that “glow and glitter” in his “cloudy breast.” They seem to burn brightly and clearly, while he feels “cloudy” and “gloomy”—foggy and within a darkness that prevents his understanding.
The speaker imagines that he can see them walking around in heaven, in glory, full of light, while he feels that his days are dull, muted, and decaying. He hopes that he has been shown these visions in order to warm him, so to speak, and to renew his faith. In the fifth stanza, the speaker directly addresses death, calling it “beauteous” and a “jewel” that shines in the dark, and he wonders what mysteries lie after death, wishing that he could learn those mysteries now, while he is still alive.
In the poem’s second half, the speaker says that a person can find a bird’s nest and know that the bird has left without knowing where the bird has gone. It is like this with people who have died: we know that they are gone but not where they have gone. Just like angels that come to us in dreams, he says, we have strange ideas about what it will be like after we die. In the eighth stanza, the speaker argues that a star would continue to burn even if it were locked up and we could not see it burning; then, if given room, the star’s light would carry even farther. In the last two stanzas, the speaker addresses God directly, referring to life as a world in which we are enslaved and to death as a world in which we experience true freedom. He asks God either to get rid of the fogginess and doubt that characterizes life so that he can see his way ahead or to end his life now; either way, he will learn the answers to his questions about death.