Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
- Phew. No cremation.
- So where does our "image" go when we die, if it isn’t sinking in the sea or being buried in the ground? Well, it goes back to the Earth.
- It was "nourishment" from the Earth that allowed our body to grow, and now our body will be turned ("resolved") back into earth again. This is like that old expression you may have heard – "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
- When we die, according to this poem’s version of things, we lose what made us human ("each human trace"). We give up our "individual being."
- Basically, after you die, you stop being the person you used to be.
To mix for ever with the elements,
To be a brother to the insensible rock
- Our speaker is really in love with this image of returning to the Earth, so now he just riffs on it a little.
- He tells us our bodies will "mix […] with the elements." We’ll basically be no different from an "insensible rock." Insensible just means "unable to feel." So, all the touch and sight and hearing and emotion that made us human will be gone, leaving us no different from rocks.
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
- Just to make sure we got the point, the poem drives it in again, this time with some fancy vocab words.
- Now the speaker tells us we’ll be like a "sluggish clod" after we’re dead. A "clod" is a chunk of dirt, and "sluggish" lets us know how lifeless and heavy we’ll be.
- The speaker really works this image of our bodies turning into dirt. Here he talks about how a country boy (aka a "swain" – a pretty popular dude in old nature poems) digs up that clod of dirt with his plow ("share") and walks ("treads") all over it. That’s just how low you’ll be after you’re dead. Even the swains get to step on you. Bummer.
- Are you feeling comforted yet? Um, we're guessing no. Hey, Mr. Speaker, you're going to have to try a bit harder.
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.
- Our dead bodies will be food for oak trees, as they send their roots out through the earth. Those roots will pierce the "mould" (soil) of our bodies.
- We think that last image is really vivid – a little bit violent, but also sort of beautiful. Bodies mixing with trees? OK, it could be worse.