Thanatopsis

Thanatopsis

by William Cullen Bryant

     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 magnificent. 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 meadows 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, that 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 the 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.

Summary of Thanatopsis

  • Popularity of “Thanatopsis”: William Cullen Bryant, a famous American poet, wrote ‘Thanatopsis’. It was first published in 1817 in the North American Review. It is a long, thought-provoking and fascinating poem deals with the subject of death and immortality. Its popularity lies in the fact that it speaks of the love of nature that provides solace and comfort in this world and the world hereafter.
  • “Thanatopsis” As a Representative of Death: As this poem presents the poet’s contemplation of death, it shows that death is not horrific or a terrible experience. The poet addresses the human’s tendency to be afraid of death and answers it with logical reasoning. At the outset, he talks about the consoling attribute of nature and catalogs the things exist in the universe for mankind. He personifies nature throughout the poem and argues that she communicates with those who listen to her. Also, he acknowledges that humans feel acute pain and horror when thinking about death. However, death does not put an end to life. Instead, it gives them a chance to join the lot that has already left this transient world, implying death is inevitable and every passing day is taking us close to the end of life. Everyone will sooner or later return into the lap of nature. Which means, our body will decompose. Therefore, one should not be afraid of death and enjoy the time on earth.
  • Major Themes in “Thanatopsis”: Death and nature are the important themes found in the poem. Bryant does not look at death as anything to be afraid of. Instead, it presents an unavoidable and natural part of human life. Everyone that comes to this earth will eventually embrace death, regardless of cast, age, color, and creed. The poet encourages the readers not to think of death as a horrific, mystic and sad incident as he further explains that death will not isolate them in the world hereafter. Everyone who dies will be joining those who have already left his world.

Analysis of Literary Devices in “Thanatopsis”

Literary devices play a pivotal role in shaping a literary piece of work. The writer uses them to bring uniqueness and depth in the simple texts. William Cullen Bryant has also effectively used some literary devices in this poem to make it extraordinary. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem is given below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /ea/ in “And healing sympathy, that steals away” and the sound of /ei/ in “Their sharpness, ere he is aware.”
  2. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /p/ in “Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch” and the sound of /t/ in “To that mysterious realm, where each shall take.”
  3. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /f/ in “Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past” and the sound of /w/ in “With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings”.
  4. Personification: Personification is to give human attributes to inanimate objects. He has personified nature throughout the poem by giving it human qualities and voice to the emotions, beauty, and thoughts.
  1. Enjambment: Enjambment refers to the continuation of a sentence without the pause beyond the end of a line, couplet or stanza. For example,

“Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”

6. Simile: It is a figure of speech used to compare something with something else to make the readers understand what it is. For example, “The hills Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun”. Here, he compares the age of the hills to the age of the sun.

7. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects different in nature. For example, “And breathless darkness, and the narrow house, Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart.” “Narrow house” metaphorically represents the coffin.

8. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things using their five senses. For example, “Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales”, “His chamber in the silent halls of death,” and “The planets, all the infinite host of heaven.”

9. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. “Nature” is the symbol of comfort, “sun” symbolizes power, the beauty of nature and eternity.

This literary analysis shows that this poem has effectively grabbed the attention of the readers with the use of literary devices.

Analysis of Poetic Devices in “Thanatopsis”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are six long stanzas in the poem.
  2. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows an irregular rhyme scheme.
  3. Iambic Pentameter: It is a type of meter having five iambs per line.  The poem follows iambic pentameter such as, “To him who in the love of Nature holds.”

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below can be used while describing the enchanting beauty of nature.

“The venerable woods—rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste.”

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