Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
- The whole point of this poem is that this is going to happen to you. You’re going to "rest" like all those other people.
- It’s a little scary, huh? Maybe you’re worried that, when you "withdraw," none of your friends will notice your "departure."
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
- This poem isn’t trying to freak you out. The speaker doesn’t want you to feel terrible or worry about your death. He wants you to think about it in a calm, relaxed way, to see how it fits in with the natural order of the world.
- Everyone alive ("all that breathe") is going to die. All human beings are headed for the same place. In a way, it’s obvious, but this poem forces us to think about it really carefully.
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
- After we are gone, life will go on. Happy people ("the gay" in line 61) will keep on laughing. Unhappy people ("the solemn brood") will continue to trudge on, weighed down by their worry ("care").
- All these people – the happy and the unhappy – will continue to go about their business, even if, in the end, that business doesn’t amount to anything more than chasing "phantoms." To quote rock legends Kansas: "Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind." Don’t you forget it.
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
- Eventually, all of those people you left behind when you died are coming to "make their bed" next to you.
- We’re taking the long view in this poem. Instead of getting caught up in your private worries, think about how we all end up in the same place.