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Thanatopsis -- William Cullen Bryant

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.
-- William Cullen Bryant
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.

489 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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PisceSJ38 said...

thanatopsis is a confusing poem, can you explain it better?

lil' jel*b said...

cool thanatopsis stuff but i was looking for a brief summary as to what the poems means.

ImANiMrOd05 said...

you think you can send my a summary, or a site where i can find a
summary ASAP? well thank you.

Anthony

VINCEANITY24 said...

He is talking about nature and the way she looks or makes us feel
when we feel sad, happy, mad etc. She could so beautiful or she can be very
ugly depending on how we are. When we think that our last hours are up we
see sad images of horrible things that happened maybe like 9/11 and it gets
really dark and the narrow house is like the long tunnel when you see that u
know its all over and you grow sick at heart. Go forward and see what mother
nature has for you to learn and take in all the information you can cause
afterwards the image in your of mother nature will dissappear. Earth in which
you grew up on will collect from you as you did from it when u pass away and
will give our body like we expected every other specie which passed to do the
same thing. Basically he is talking about going to heaven or to the other
world in which the dead go he says you will not be alone they're kings and
farmers in the same place so dont think that you are leaving and you will be
the only one their. Here he discribes the worlds different settings the
woods, rivers, oceans and mountains the earth is a great big tomb for you and
me. Everyone and everything are looking at the good things of death and we
dont see what they are but the gods do. Everyone right now on earth are just
a small amount compared to the poeple who have died and you add them all up
our population right now aint nothing. No matter where you travel people
where buried there many years ago so the earth is one big cemetery. Should we
leave in peace and if we do what if nobody takes record of our leaving would
it still be peace. The happy peolple will in time rest in peace and join you
in heaven people eventually in 100 or 200 years will join you too. Man will
go through the long stages of death the second we are born is the exact
second that we start dying so after we go through the teenage years will go
through senior citizen stage and then death. So until your day is up live
life like there aint no tomorrow because when that day comes you should say i
can go in peace because I have accomplished everything i wanted to do.

I hope this information will help you

Deepa Patel said...

hello,
I have to write a paper for AP english 12 on thanatopsis, and I was wondering if you ever got a good summary of it, or if perhaps you have any notes that could help me! thnaks for all your time and assistance!
deepa Patel

George & Jyce Perlinger said...

I am homeschooling so I have no teacher to help me out and I am so confused about how this poem shows ideals of democracy and Romantasim

weixingzhao1616 said...

Do you have a summary on Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyll by John Whittier?
Thank you

ÎÇáÏ said...

iam university student and i study english literature .i want you to give me some information in Thanatopsis.if you do not mind ,can you explain the theme of thanatopsis

Cuddlybear287 said...

"Thanatopsis" is a poem about veiws of death. The reader is supposed
to be less frightened by the aspects of death because in the end everyone is
one (Unitarian) in Nature which also refers to God because Romantics beleived
that in order to get closer to God there was no middle man . They felt that by
surrounding themselves in Nature they could "communicate" with God. The poem
also disestablishes social classes ans ranks because death is the equalizer and
nobody is better than anyone else.
I don't know if this helped any but if you e-mail me back I explain
more and I might be able to answer some questions.

Cuddlybear287 said...

It's Romanticism because William Cullen Bryant is a romantic and fireside
poet. There was actually a time period in literature that refers to romantics.
They believed in Unitarian ways, which means that God and Nature are one. They
thought that there shouldn't be a middle such as a preacher or anything and
that a church could only be a bnuilding, that to really be cl ose to God you
should surround yourself and invoke in Nature. I hope this helps some.If not you
can mail me back if you'd like

Adventuresterry said...

I understand the poem and how it reflects the ideals of Romanticism but I am
unclear how this poem could possibly reflect the ideals of democracy? Any
idea....?

Rodenbaugh Glenda said...

I was wondering if anyone knew which one of Bryant's poems looks to
eighteenth-century values both in philosophy and writing style?

Glenda

RuffRyder5462 said...

What is the great tomb of man

Asmileya5 said...

Thank you so much for this summary. You do not realize how much I really need
it. If there's anything you think I can help you with just email me and I'll
try my best to help.

SYZYGYJOB said...

I was a sophomore at Sonoma High School in 1945 when our English teacher
introduced us to THANATOPSIS. It seemed very remote to me, but I was challenged
by such writing by a lad younger than I was at the time. We were required
to memorize the last nine lines and to be prepared to recite them. I was
inspired enough to become the only student in my class to submit a series of my
own poems as a term paper.

When I was 35 years old, I went through, perhaps, my only extended period of
depression, lasting several days, as my own mortality weighed upon me. I
came across the old poem by William Cullen Bryant, and slowly committed it to
memory, taking reassurance in its message.

For the next 40 years I have drawn upon the poem to pass the time or keep me
awake while driving. On one occasion I recited it to my Mother, who had
tears when I finished, and suggested that I present it at her funeral.
Unfortunately, she died far away and there was no funeral, but in my grief I wrote
one of my most heart-felt poems.

Nowadays, I am happily retired and back in the Valley of the Moon, where I
was raised and where I find familiar memories at every turn. While walking
my dog I find that the post office is just one "Thanatopsis" away.

Geologist Jim Berkland
Glen Ellen, CA

Friday, 13 May, 2005.

FlowerGirlLG40 said...

hey, I am also being homeschooled and have to do the same poem on how
Thanatopsis it shows ideals of deomocracy and Romanticism. Has anyone responded?
This is from .

PPower2900 said...

Wow~ Jim, I loved your remembrances of this poem that you posted toward the
end of the commentary. In fact, I am cutting and copying that portion to read
to my classes this morning, as we undertake our study of the classic poem as
way of introduction to the world of American Romantic poetry. Thank you for
such an inspiring and insightful comment! PPower, Edinburg, TX

John Gillon said...

Thanatopsis means a view of death. Bryant points out in the first 30 lines
that Death is scary, final, and lonely. You become one of the forgotten.
This view makes it sound like death is static and we are no more than carbon
life forms who get recycled by the earth when we die. However, lines 31-48
refute this view. We are not alone-many have gone before us and we join
those who have previously died. We also become one with the earth and with
all of Nature. As part of Humanity we are united by the fact that we will
ALL die. No one leaves this life alive. We all follow the same path
eventually. We are, therefore, all united and a part of the same cycle. He
ends the poem by telling us not to be afraid of Death but rather to embrace
it like a "pleasant dream."

joanna wojewoda said...

Hello,

I am wrting an essay on "Thanotopsis" Do you happen to know a link to a site where I could find an analysis of the poem?

Joanna

Rosmanclan said...

What is the original date on this poem? My uncle just passed away but
recited this poem as his last spoken words. We would like to read it at his
memorial service but I would like to give the correct mention of the poem.

JR

HlSoto said...

WHAT IS THE FIRST PARAGRAPH SAYING

DeadlyXXRomantic said...

Hello,
I have to write a paper on "Thanatopsis." And one of the things we have to answer is why Bryant wrote the poem. I can't seem to find it anywhere and I was hoping you could help me.

Soccer035 said...

I have an essay on "Write about Bryant's ideas about death and his purpose
in writing "Thanatopsis"..be as specific as you can especially in developing
his ideas about death"...i understand like death can be happy but is that all?

Sylvia G. Mora said...

Sylvia G. Mora

Valley Baptist Foundation

Ext. 11022

Matt Bonura said...

What are some examples of symbolism?

Kathy Smith said...

If you are a university student studying Thanatopsis for English literature,
I would suggest pay more careful attention to your punctuation, spelling,
etc.

Anonymous said...

well how about analysis of the poem??

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your argument is invalid

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your mom is invalid

Anonymous said...

^^^good one. dont commment unless your information is important.

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หนังโป๊ said...

i have to write a paper on "Thanatopsis." And one of the things we have to answer is why Bryant wrote the poem. I can't seem to find it anywhere and I was hoping you could help me.

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I'm a little lost about this poem.. Like what is the meaning,inspiration and intent of it?

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malignly said...

I have to write a letter to William Bryant conveying a Puritan reaction to thanatopsis and I have no idea where to start.

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