If we didn’t know better we would think Emily spent most of her time going to funerals. And, in a way she did, at least in her mind since this poem isn’t about anyone who actually died, she’s only talking about how life is hard but in the end we’ll find a peace that no “schoolboy” can rob.
While I wouldn’t say this poem is a masterpiece my any stretch of the word, there is a sign of her genius mind at work buried in here. In the second stanza she utilizes the imagery of pray animals, the hare and the bird, who are hunted their entire lives and can only find peace in the next world. Then when we look at line three of the first stanza, she writes about a “faith that watched for star in vain” which alludes to someone who, while they pray everyday, do not find comfort in this life, just like the hare and the bird. What I think her instincts are focusing in on is the idea of the words pray and prey being connected and how “faith” is the only thing at work which keeps someone going in this life because as a prey / pray animal we will always be hunted and terrorized in this life and the star that we have faith in can only be seen after we’ve been hunted down by death. We are – to make a slight pun of it – pray animals and death is who hounds us, yet what death doesn’t know – like the petulant schoolboy – is that in death we are lead “gently” to the “star” (afterlife) . In other words, death is leading us to life, not actually killing us.