Guest poem sent in by Mukund Rangamani
(Poem #302) Thanatopsis
To him who in the love of Nature holds Communion with her visible forms, she speaks A various language; for his gayer hours She has a voice of gladness, and a smile And eloquence of beauty, and she glides Into his darker musings, with a mild And healing sympathy, that steals away Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts Of the last bitter hour come like a blight Over thy spirit, and sad images Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall, And breathless darkness, and the narrow house, Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;-- Go forth, under the open sky, and list To Nature's teachings, while from all around-- Earth and her waters, and the depths of air-- Comes a still voice--Yet a few days, and thee The all-beholding sun shall see no more In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground, Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears, Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again, And, lost each human trace, surrendering up Thine individual being, shalt thou go To mix for ever with the elements, To be a brother to the insensible rock And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould. Yet not to thine eternal resting-place Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish Couch more magnificient. Thou shalt lie down With patriarchs of the infant world--with kings, The powerful of the earth--the wise, the good Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past, All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,--the vales Stretching in pensive quietness between; The venerable woods--rivers that move In majesty, and the complaining brooks That make the meadow green; and, poured round all, Old Ocean's gray and melancholy waste,-- Are but the solemn decorations all Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun, The planets, all the infinite host of heaven, Are shining on the sad abodes of death, Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread The globe are but a handful to the tribes That slumber in its bosom.--Take the wings Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness, Or lose thyself in the continuous woods Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound, Save his own dashings--yet the dead are there: And millions in those solitudes, since first The flight of years began, have laid them down In their last sleep--the dead reign there alone. So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw In silence from the living, and no friend Take note of thy departure? All that breathe Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care Plod on, and each one as before will chase His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave Their mirth and their employments, and shall come And make their bed with thee. As the long train Of ages glide away, the sons of men, The youth in life's green spring, and he who goes In the full strength of years, matron and maid, The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man-- Shall one by one be gathered to thy side By those, who in their turn shall follow them. So live, and when thy summons comes to join The innumerable caravan, which moves To that mysterious realm, where each shall take His chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not, like a quarry-slave at night, Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave, Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
A descendant of early Puritan immigrants, Bryant at 16 entered the sophomore class of Williams College. Because of finances and in hopes of attending Yale, he withdrew without graduating. Unable to enter Yale, he studied law under private guidance at Worthington and at Bridgewater and at 21 was admitted to the bar. He spent nearly 10 years in Plainfield and at Great Barrington as an attorney, a calling for which he held a lifelong aversion. At 26 Bryant married Frances Fairchild, with whom he was happy until her death nearly half a century later. In 1825 he moved to New York City to become coeditor of the New York Review. He became an editor of the Evening Post in 1827; in 1829 he became editor in chief and part owner and continued in this position until his death. His careful investment of his income made Bryant wealthy. He was an active patron of the arts and letters. The religious conservatism imposed on Bryant in childhood found expression in pious doggerel; the political conservatism of his father stimulated "The Embargo" (1808), in which the 13-year-old poet demanded the resignation of President Jefferson. But in "Thanatopsis" (from the Greek "a view of death"), which he wrote when he was 17 and which made him famous when it was published in The North American Review in 1817, he rejected Puritan dogma for Deism; thereafter he was a Unitarian. Turning also from Federalism, he joined the Democratic party and made the Post an organ of free trade, workingmen's rights, free speech, and abolition. Bryant was for a time a Free-Soiler and later one of the founders of the Republican party. As a man of letters, Bryant securely established himself at the age of 27 with Poems (1821). In his later years he devoted considerable time to translations.