Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
- Suddenly we zoom up to the sky, and out to the sun and the planets. This is one of the cool tricks Bryant uses. Even though this is generally a sad, quiet poem, it’s also full of activity and energy and life.
- Notice that the speaker also mentions the "infinite host of heaven." This could just be a reference to all the things that are in the sky (stars, planets, moons, etc).
- It could also be a little religious hint. The Bible (Luke 2:13) talks about a "heavenly host," meaning an army of angels.
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
- All those beautiful things in the sky – whether they're planets or angels – are looking down on the unhappy little homes ("abodes") of death.
- Man, everything, even the sun, reminds our speaker that death is unavoidable. The sun keeps shining and people keep dying forever and ever. This process keeps going "through the still lapse of the ages."
- Do you feel that sense of calm again? Things are always quiet and "still," and the passage ("lapse") of time continues no matter what we do.
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings
- Here we keep digging into the "earth as a big tomb" metaphor.
- The speaker says that all the people who are now alive are just a "handful" compared to the dead people buried in the ground. Actually, we got curious about this idea, and it turns out to be true. You can read about it here.