According to the poem “Thanatopsis,” what can nature teach us about life and death?

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According to Bryant's "Thanatopsis," life and death involve natural processes that are not to be feared or dreaded. In fact, the uncertainties many people associate with death, for example, need not be a concern, according to the speaker who denies the possibility that dying is lonely. Leaving life only means connecting with a different kind of family in the form of "brother to the insensible rock" and "the patriarchs of the infant world...all in one mighty sepulchre."

At the end of the poem, the speaker insists that when the time comes, metaphors that suit death the most are not foreboding places like a "dungeon," but comfortable ones, like a chamber or room where "drapery" folds around an individual, inviting him or her to enjoy "pleasant dreams." This friendly and inviting depiction of death communicates to the reader that death is a natural and comfortable end to life, one that suggests restfulness rather than pain and isolation.

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The title of William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” comes from two Greek words and translates as “view of death.” Throughout the poem, the speaker urges his audience not to be afraid of their mortality but rather to embrace its deeper meaning.

This meaning, according to the speaker, can be gleaned from nature. Bryant uses imagery throughout the poem to illustrate how everything dies and decomposes on Earth, and life continues on afterward. The speaker says that once dead, everyone will “be resolved to earth again,” and their “human trace” will be gone forevermore. The speaker thinks this is a comforting fact of death because it means a person’s soul mixes “for ever with the elements” and thus lives on.

While most people try to prolong their lives and are frightened at the prospect of death, Bryant’s poem suggests that the peaceful way in which nature accepts every creature’s mortality is a better choice when facing one’s death.

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