Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
- If that was the end of the poem, it would be pretty depressing. Now, though, all of a sudden, Bryant switches the mood up a little.
- The speaker says: "So live." Enjoy the time you have. Sooner or later you will hear the call ("the summons") of death. You will join the endless train of people leaving this life. We’re still talking about death, but there’s some hope, a reminder of the importance of life.
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
- We’re all headed for what our speaker calls "that mysterious realm," what Shakespeare called "that undiscovered country." We’re all going to get a room ("chamber") in the quiet "halls of death."
- Still, we shouldn’t go as if we were being forced, like slaves in darkness.
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
- Instead of acting like we are being whipped ("scourged") into some underground prison, we should trust that what is happening to us is good. We should be comforted and soothed by our belief in the comfort and rightness of death.
- Notice that he doesn’t say exactly what we should be trusting in. This is important. There’s no clear religious message here, just some general comfort.
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
- We end the poem with an image that we think is actually really beautiful. After all that grim contemplation of death, the speaker closes things on a soothing, comforting note. He says that we should get ready to die like someone wrapping a blanket ("drapery") around him and getting ready for a happy, dream-filled sleep. Kind of nice, huh?