This dramatic monologue—a poem spoken in the voice of a particular character—begins with its speaker, a sick old man, lying on his deathbed. He might be ill, but he still has enough energy for an outburst of irritation: "What is he buzzing in my ears?"
The irritating whisperer here, it turns out, is a priest, who (as the poem's title suggests) is probably here to hear the speaker's last confession. He's begun with a traditionally priestly question, asking the speaker if he "view[s] the world as a vale of tears" now that he's at the end of his life. He might mean to encourage the speaker to repent for his past sins and look hopefully toward heaven; the old line about life as a "vale of tears" alludes to a hymn to the Virgin Mary, asking her to take care of all the poor sufferers down on earth.
This speaker, however, isn't willing to play along. Does he view the world as a place of sorrow, suffering, and trials? No! Even as he respectfully addresses the priest as "reverend sir," he clearly takes a different view of the world (and seems annoyed to be interrupted in his own thoughts by these pious "buzzing[s]."
The rest of this poem will explain how the speaker does see the world: as a place of many joys, some of them ones the priest wouldn't approve of. Right from the start, the poem's shape suggests this deathbed confession won't be a tragic one:
- The bouncy accentual meter doesn't stick to any one flavor of metrical foot, like dactyls or trochees. Instead, it uses a predictable number of stresses arranged in unpredictable patterns, alternating between four-beat lines (as in "Do I view the world as a vale of tears?") and three-beat lines (as in "Ah, reverend sir, not I!")
- That choice makes the poem feel flexible, conversational, and lighthearted: there's no rigidly regular meter here, just a jaunty, propulsive beat.
- A singsongy ABAB rhyme scheme supports that upbeat feeling.
This speaker's last thoughts on earth, these choices suggest, will be of happy things (and perhaps slightly irreverent ones).