Americans do not care to discuss death because they fear it. However, two American Romanticists brought death to the forefront of nineteenth century literature. William Cullen Bryant sees death through an organic lens in his “Thanathopsis;” on the other hand, Edgar Allan Poe focuses on the horror of death in his short story “The Masque of the Red Death”.
In “Thanatopsis,” Bryant meditates on the topic of death as an organic process and conveys to the reader that death is not to be feared. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is a common saying at funerals. What the saying means is from the earth people came and to the earth people will return. Bryant mirrors this common saying in a more eloquent and poetic way when he explains how, when man’s time to die comes, “Earth that nourished thee, shall claim/Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again” (22-23), which supports that return to the very nature from which we come. Death is natural in Bryant’s eyes. A person is born, and the earth then provides resources to this person so he can flourish and thrive. In the nineteenth century and even today, the earth’s nourishment is literal. Back then, people wore naturally made clothes, and typically farmed for a living.