Last Updated on July 14, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 399
The speaker is lamenting the fact that the living cannot know what happens to us after death. They have, evidently, lost some loved ones recently, and they feel alone in the darkness of life while their loved ones now exist in some other beautiful place, enjoying the brightness of eternal light:
I see them walking in an air of glory,
Whose light doth trample on my days:
My days, which are at best but dull and hoary,
Mere glimmering and decays.
The speaker imagines those people who have died to be now walking around in heaven, enjoying a kind of light that makes the speaker’s living days seem worthless. The speaker claims that their days, at best, seem muted and dull, even gray and colorless. They say that the dead only glimmer, giving off an extremely faint or unsteady shine, as though they can only reflect the light from somewhere else. However, it also symbolizes a decay; the more things live, the more they decay as a result of the ravages of time. While the passage of time and its effect on living things is a well-worn topic in poetry, life is also often presented as light, while death is a kind of darkness. In this poem, however, the speaker goes on to address death directly:
Dear, beauteous Death! the jewel of the just,
Shining nowhere, but in the dark;
What mysteries do lie beyond thy dust
Could man outlook that mark!
The speaker actually calls death beautiful and says that it is a shining jewel in life’s darkness. They seem to see death as a path rather than an end unto itself—a path to another place of mystery—and we cannot know what it is like beyond that marker on the path.
In the end, the speaker directly addresses God, imploring the Almighty to give them the opportunity to see beyond this world and into the next, where they imagine “true liberty” for all who are there:
Either disperse these mists, which blot and fill
My perspective still as they pass,
Or else remove me hence unto that hill,
Where I shall need no glass.
The speaker rather boldly tells God to either wipe away the fog that impedes the sight of the living so that they can see the mysteries of death now or to end their life so that they can go there for themself.