William Cullen Bryant?S ?Thanatopsis? Essay, Research Paper
The title of William Cullen Bryant?s poem ?Thanatopsis? is Greek for ?a view of death?. In this poem Bryant personifies nature and discusses death from it?s perspective. The poem begins by talking of the importance and beauty of nature. The original persona used at the beginning of the poem shares with the reader his great appreciation towards nature and the importance to one who appreciates nature to take full advantage of what it offers and learn from it all that they can. The poem continues starting on line 18 by taking on the ?still voice? of nature and through her words comforting he whom listens on her honest view of death. Nature sees the world through all time whereas man is limited to a short span of years, therefore nature observes each death as only what it represents on the full scale of time. She has seen that every living thing dies. No man whether he be as important or wise as a king or a simple infant ends up in the same place; we all go back to nature. In line 73, the poem begins it?s conclusion by returning to the original persona whose words show that he has heard and heeded the advice of nature and has therefore obtained an attitude of acceptance towards this inevitable fate that is shared by all.
Most of the poem?s intent is presented clearly to the reader by the use personification and imagery. The bulk of the poem is words from Cullen?s personified version of nature. Nature is referred to with pronouns as a female often in the poem perhaps because the ideas of gentleness and beauty are often associated more with women than men and Cullen intends to portray nature as having such characteristics. Imagery is in constant use throughout the entirety of the poem to convey the relationship of death to nature. An example of this in lines 18-23 nature begins her speech by telling the reader that in due time they will never be seen on earth again. In these lines nature personifies different aspects of herself in comparing these eternal things to the reader?s temporal state. The sun is described as being ?all-beholding? which is an example of nature being presented as very powerful throughout the poem. Almost every time an aspect of nature is mentioned there is an adjective to go with; in line 27 is mentioned a ?insensible rock?, then in line 28 ?sluggish clod? and ?rude swain?. There are many other examples of this, which are used to help with the imagery of the poem as it amplifies the use of each example of nature presented. In addition to showing the power of nature through the adjectives sometimes they are used to convey the grimness of the subject at hand with words like ?gray and melancholy in line 43 or ?solemn? in line 44. At some points one can see contrasts used for effect. In lines 46-48 the sentence ?The planets, all the infinite hosts of heaven are shining on the sad abodes of death through the still lapse of ages,? one can see the contrast from the beginning of the sentence to the end. The phrase ?infinite hosts of heaven are shining? presents a positive image, whereas ?the sad abodes of death? then quickly changes the original imagery of the sentence.
The attitude of the persona at the beginning of the poem is one of respect for nature. The first few lines describe the beauty of nature when one is upon happy times, but then the attitude becomes one of desperation when thoughts of death are presented and the need for healing arises. The attitude of nature during her speech is one of comforting for those in need of her honest words. She is not portrayed as being very emotional on the subject as to her death is merely a common fact in her everyday existence. There is no pity in her words but her comforting comes rather from her blatant observations of what is inevitable and unavoidable. The inspiration of her words is in her urging of the reader to use his understanding of what she speaks of to be comforted and gracefully accept the fate that is the final result of all. Therefore the attitude of the persona goes from one of sadness in lines 8-13 to one of acceptance in lines 73-81. This acceptance represents the attitude of the poet and is the advice he is offering to the reader. The persona represents the poet, he is sharing with the reader what his appreciation of nature has shown him and attempting the help the reader learn what nature has already taught him.
The main shift in the poem is from the persona?s grim outlook on death in lines 8-13 to his acceptance of it in lines 73-81. This is the basic idea the poem is trying to teach us, through this shift the persona is showing us what he has learned. The conclusion of the poem is his final words of advice to us. The whole point of the poem is to share with us his experience and what he learned from it. In addition to this major shift there are a few minor shifts in the poem that add to the conveyance of the message presented by the main shift. In lines 3-5, the persona describes nature as he views it during his happier times. Nature takes on a different meaning to him when he is happy than when he is faced with harder times. Nature?s beauty enhances his good moods and comforts him in his bad moods. This shift helps introduce the issue addressed in the poem, the importance of nature in helping the persona deal with death. One who has an appreciation for nature can put it to use in all times, whether they be of great happiness or despair. A similar shift is presented in nature?s speech; in line 50 she goes from simply speaking of death to actually advising her listener. She tells him to ?take the wings of morning? and to accept what is coming because there is no way for anyone to escape it.
The main theme of the poem is reflected in the title. Bryant presents to the reader a ?view of death? they have likely not considered before. The persona?s ?view of death? changes when influenced by nature and with his new understanding comes a new acceptance and understanding of life. This higher understanding is what Bryant through the persona shares with the reader in hopes of helping the reader to learn from his experiences. The poem teaches the reader that it is useless to view death with worry or fear because no worrying did anything to prevent death from the masses that have already returned to nature, and no fear will delay the death of the many to come that will experience the same fate. There is no living thing that is exempt from this fact of life and grieving this inevitable fate is a waste of time-just appreciate the chance you have.