Last Updated September 6, 2023.
Death and Loss
The theme of profound loss is first indicated in the title. The pronoun “they” is further modified by the qualifier “all.” Whatever has happened, the speaker has lost all the people dear to them. In the second line, they reiterate this point: “I alone sit ling’ring here.” Whether they have faced war, disease, fire, or some other disaster, the effects have decimated the speaker’s world and left them clinging to the memories of those they love. The memories of those they have lost creates a light that “tramples” on the speaker’s days. The verb choice is key here, as the connotation is harsh. The memories and light do not brighten the speaker’s days; they beat the speaker down. The speaker uses one metaphor that captures this loss especially well:
He that hath found some fledg’d bird’s nest, may knowAt first sight, if the bird be flown;But what fair well or grove he sings in now,That is to him unknown.
The imagery here of an empty nest, and therefore an empty home, is one that haunts the reader. Although the bird now sings elsewhere, its location is now unseen, and its well-being is unknown. Like the bird, those the speaker loves have all left their metaphorical nest and are elsewhere. The speaker is left with only their grief and memories.
God and Spirituality
In the third stanza, the speaker addresses “holy Hope” and “high Humility,” referring to God, who is “high as the heavens above.” It is God who allows these memories to “walk” with the speaker throughout the day. The speaker trusts that God allows the speaker’s mind to be reminded of those lost in an effort to “kindle cold love.”
God holds the power to either deliver the speaker from their grief or take them into the afterlife, where they will feel no further pain from their losses. The speaker submits to this will, acknowledging and accepting that God is in control of both the pain and the memories as well as the ability to take anyone from this earth. The speaker also uses the metaphor of “a star. . . confin’d into a tomb,” alluding to the burial of Christ.
Separation from Loved Ones
In their loss, the speaker narrates a theme of separateness from those who have died. Although they can “see them walking in an air of glory” in their memories, the speaker is painfully separate from the world of those with whom they once enjoyed an earthly life. They question Death, asking “what mysteries do lie beyond thy dust / Could man outlook that mark.” The speaker is left alone in the world with their questions and the inability to understand both death and the afterlife, while those they love are fully knowledgeable of those great mysteries. The dead are all just out of reach to him now, “walking in an air of glory” while the speaker continues to plod up the metaphorical “hill” with only “faint beams” of light to guide them. They long for a reunification in the midst of profound loss.