Night on the Graves, Voltairine de Cleyre: Summary & Analysis

"Night on the Graves" by Voltairine de Cleyre is a poignant and reflective poem that captures the solemn beauty and reverence of a cemetery at night. Through vivid imagery and emotive language, the poem pays tribute to the heroes resting in the graveyard and invokes a sense of connection between the living and the deceased. The poem also touches on themes of remembrance, honor, and the enduring legacy of those who have sacrificed for their country.

Night on the Graves

O'er the sweet, quiet homes in the silent grave-city,
Softly the dewdrops, the night-tears, fall;
Broadly about, like the wide arms of pity,
The silver-shot darkness lies over all.
Heroes, asleep 'neath the red-hearted rose-wreaths,
Leaf-crowned with honor, flower-crowned with rest,
Gently above you each moon-dripping bough breathes
A far-echoed whisper, "Sleep well; ye are blest."
Oh! never, as long as the heart pulses quicker
At the dear name of Country may yours be forgot;
Nor may we, till the last puny life spark shall flicker,
Your deeds from the tablets of Memory blot!
Spirits afloat in the night-shrouds that bound us,
Souls of the "Has-Been" and of the "To-Be,"
Keep the fair light of Liberty shining around us,
Till our souls may go back to the mighty SOUL-SEA.
S. J, M., 1886 (Decoration Day).

Critical Analysis

"Night on the Graves" evokes a sense of reverence and contemplation as it paints a vivid picture of a cemetery at nightfall. The poem's lyrical and empathetic tone conveys a deep respect for the heroes who rest there and serves as a call to remember their sacrifices.

The opening lines set the scene of a peaceful graveyard, where dewdrops are likened to night-tears, creating an atmosphere of tranquility and reverence.

The imagery of the "red-hearted rose-wreaths" and "moon-dripping bough" invokes a sense of honor and beauty associated with the heroes' resting places.

The phrase "Sleep well; ye are blest" carries a gentle and comforting sentiment, suggesting that the heroes have found solace and contentment in their eternal rest.

The poem's assertion that the heroes should never be forgotten reflects a strong desire to preserve their memory and contributions for generations to come.

The lines "Spirits afloat in the night-shrouds that bound us" and "Keep the fair light of Liberty shining around us" convey a sense of unity and continuity, connecting the living with the spirits of the departed and emphasizing the ongoing pursuit of freedom.

The final lines express a hope for a future where souls are united in a "mighty SOUL-SEA," suggesting a shared destiny and a continuous cycle of remembrance and honor.

"Night on the Graves" stands as a heartfelt tribute to the heroes who have passed away, and it underscores the enduring impact of their sacrifices on the present and future generations.


"Night on the Graves" by Voltairine de Cleyre portrays the quiet beauty and solemnity of a cemetery at night. The poem pays homage to the heroes buried there, invoking an atmosphere of honor and respect. It emphasizes the importance of remembering their sacrifices and underscores the connection between the living and the departed in the pursuit of liberty and unity.

Themes of the Poem

  • Remembrance and Honor: The poem highlights the significance of preserving the memory and sacrifices of those who have passed away.
  • Unity Across Time: The poem suggests a sense of continuity between the living and the departed, emphasizing a shared pursuit of freedom and a common destiny.
  • Tranquility and Reverence: The poem creates an atmosphere of peacefulness and reverence through its depiction of the graveyard at nightfall.

Stylistic Analysis

  • Imagery: The poem uses vivid imagery to paint a detailed and evocative picture of the cemetery at night, enhancing the reader's emotional connection to the scene.
  • Metaphor: The metaphor of night-tears falling as dewdrops adds a poignant layer of emotion to the depiction of the graveyard.


  • Respect and Reverence: The poem conveys a deep sense of respect and reverence for the heroes resting in the graveyard.
  • Desire for Remembrance: The poem expresses a strong desire for the heroes' sacrifices to be remembered and preserved over time.


  • Emotive Language: The poem uses emotive language to evoke a sense of empathy and connection with the heroes and their sacrifices.
  • Symbolism: Symbols such as the "red-hearted rose-wreaths" and the "moon-dripping bough" add layers of meaning and contribute to the poem's atmosphere.

Sound Devices

  • Rhythm: The poem's rhythmic flow contributes to its contemplative and reflective tone, inviting readers to engage with its themes.

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