Her lovely companions are faded and gone
The Last Rose of Summer evokes the sadness and loneliness that might be felt by a person towards the end of their lives when all of their contemporaries and friends have died.
The first verse reflects on how the rose is the only one still blooming while all around it have faded and died.
Instantly, the song conjures up a sense of isolation as the rose has no companion to reflect back its beauty or to “give sigh for sigh”.
Kindly I scatter thy leaves o’er the bed
Faced with this image of isolation, the poet imagines that the rose must be pining for the loss of its companions.
Rather than see it suffer through loneliness, he prefers to let the last remaining flower join the others which lie “scentless and dead” on the ground.
He sees this as an act of mercy: “Thus kindly I scatter thy leaves o’er the bed.”
Oh who would inhabit this bleak world alone!
The third verse moves away from the rose and the purpose of the imagery is revealed.
The poet projects forward to the day when like the rose, he is the last one remaining of his circle of friends and loved ones.
He has already decided that when that moment arrives, he has no desire to carry on living alone.
He says that – “when friendships decay … when true hearts lie withered and fond ones are flown” – he would rather follow the course of the final rose and be allowed to join his companions who had gone before and fallen to the ground.
The poet sees no point to a life without love and the warmth of friendship, for “who would inhabit this bleak world alone!”