In the poem “Thanatopsis,” the author William Cullen Bryant suggests that we should not fear death. He proposes that through the teachings of Nature we should find comfort in knowing death is truly not so terrifying and lonely, and that it can actually be quite pleasant. In the first stanza, Bryant focuses more on “Nature” and her teachings than on death, though of course death is mentioned. He accomplishes this by personifying Nature as a beautiful woman. He writes that those who hold “communion with her visible forms”(2), or visit her in a natural place such as an ocean or forest, are blessed by her beauty and “voice of gladness”(4) when they are feeling happy and her “healing sympathy”(7) that steals away the sharpness of their darker musing before they are even aware of it. It is here that he first mentions the teachings of Nature. He states that when thoughts of the “last bitter hour”(9), death, come like a “blight over thy spirit”(9-10) and make us “sick at heart”(13), we should go forth and “list to Nature’s teachings”(14-15). He then explains that when we die the “Earth, that nourish’d thee, shall claim thy growth, to be resolved to earth again”(22-23) and that we will surrender our “individual being”(25) and To mix forever 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 (Lines 26-29)
In other words, our bodies will be recycled by the Earth and become one organism together. These are the teachings of Nature that Bryant is referring to and they tie in perfectly with what he writes in the next stanza when he shifts from our physical entities to our spiritual ones. It is also interesting to note that he uses the adjective “rude” to describe the swain, which indicates his attitude towards the relationship between the living world and the world of the dead he talks about in the next stanza. Bryant makes this shift from the physical to the spiritual...
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