Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
William Cullen Bryant’s poem “Thanatopsis” is considered to be the best of a number of poems he wrote on the subject of death. More noteworthy, however, is the fact that this poem established Bryant’s reputation as a poet. That is not to say, however, that the poet was an overnight success. The North American Review, the periodical in which the poem first appeared, had a small circulation. Furthermore, according to one of Bryant’s biographers, “Thanatopsis” was actually submitted to the publisher by the poet’s father, and, since it was printed anonymously, one editor thought that the poem had been written by Bryant’s father, Dr. Peter Bryant. Also, in the early nineteenth century, American readers were just beginning to develop an appreciation of the kind of Romanticism that the poem exhibits.
After his reputation was established, however, Bryant was sometimes called the “American Wordsworth” because, like the British Romantic poet William Wordsworth, he excelled in creating effective descriptions of nature. It is interesting to note that Bryant was acknowledged as the foremost poet in the United States even before his poems had been collected into a single volume; they had been published only singly in magazines and newspapers over a period of some fifteen years. One writer commented that Bryant had “been placed by common consent at the head of the list of American poets.”
Like many of his contemporaries,...
(The entire section is 1677 words.)
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