Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant

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The poem,”Thanatopsis”, written by William Cullen Bryant is an excellent

example of American poetry. This literary work explores the controversial question of

death. Although “Thanatopsis” comes from the Greek and means “a view or

contemplation of death”, it can also be seen as a contemplation of nature. Within the

lines Bryant compares the eternal question of death with the ongoing cycle of nature

and life. Bryant makes the connection between God and nature through society,

imagery, and trust.

To understand why “Thanatopsis” is an elegy, you need to understand what an

elegy is. Webster defines elegy as a song or poem expressing sorrow of lamentation

especially for one who is dead. Thanatopsis is a poem filled with metaphors of death. I

feel that Bryant is expressing his sorrow for the inevitable. In many places throughout

the poem he refers to death with other words, such as “slumber.” There are examples

of this use throughout the poem. The connections he uses between death and sleep

give the work more depth and meaning.

This poem shows changes in the writer and he begins to change his thoughts of

death. Bryant learns to embrace the ending (death) and sees it as a rebirth. He starts

to believe in the afterlife and this is how the poem finds its way out of melancholy. By

the last couplet of the poem, Bryant begins to make his religious point.
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