Thanatopsis: Life and William Cullen Bryant

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  • Topic: William Cullen Bryant, Life, Human
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  • Published : July 4, 2006
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Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust: An Outlook on Death as Illustrated in Thanatopsis
In "Thanatopsis", William Cullen Bryant describes death as a natural part of life and suggests that one should not fear death. In Albert McLean's book William Cullen Bryant, he refers to death as an "ordinary course of human life" (p. 79). Bryant suggests that when one dies and is buried, they return to the earth that nourished them throughout their life, hence, death is part of a natural order. Bryant's "Thanatopsis" attempts to illustrate the correlation between death and the never-ending natural order of life. "Thanatopsis" shows Bryant's unorthodox beliefs and thoughts on the subject of death. Most people fear death but Bryant speaks of death with calmness and suggests to the reader to think of death as a rest.

Translated from Greek, "Thanatopsis" means a meditation or view on death. "Thanatopsis" includes both human and natural solace on the topic of death, both of which are meant to calm man as he comes nearer his own death. The subject matter addressed in "Thanatopsis" is not what happens to the body or soul when one dies but instead, what happens to the human mind when one is approaching death. In his biography of William Cullen Bryant, Charles H. Brown states the following about Bryant's alleged beliefs on Christianity: "'Thanatopsis' was not written to deny the consolations of religion but to appeal to the rational man" (p. 104). Bryant abandoned the existing views Christians at that time had about death, and as an alternative, described death as a link between man and nature.

"Thanatopsis" reassures the reader that they will not be alone in death: "Yet not to thin eternal resting-place shalt thou retire alone" (32-33). This is a comforting fact to the reader because they will not be alone when they are buried and returned to the earth. People fear being alone, and with the great unknown, death, at hand, this verse reassures the reader that they will not be alone....
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