Can someone give me 3 lines from the poem 'Thanatopsis' by William Cullen Bryant and explain what they mean? Thanks.It's this project where we choose 3 lines and explain what they mean, I have...

Can someone give me 3 lines from the poem 'Thanatopsis' by William Cullen Bryant and explain what they mean? Thanks.

It's this project where we choose 3 lines and explain what they mean, I have read this poem 5 times and I don't seem to understand it.

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

As a Romantic poet, William Cullen Bryant felt a closeness with nature.  One of the ever-present lessons of nature is the organic cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth.  It is interesting that, while Bryant composed the first version when he was only sixteen, he later revised it as an adult who had survived a close call with death. Because of his experience and his wiser perspective as an adult, there is great depth of feeling as well as insight in his poem.  Bryant's poem reminds the reader of his theme oneness with nature in lines 17 through 72:

To Nature's teachings, while from all around--/Earth and her waters, and the depths of air--Comes a still voice,--

Another motif that is in Bryant's poem is that Death equalizes us all, for we are all equally children of Nature:

...Thou shalt lie down/With patriarchs of the infant world--with kings,/The powerful of the earth--the wise, the good,/Fair forms and hoary seers of ages past,/All in one mgihty sepulcher. (ll.33-37)

Thus, because a person becomes one with Nature and the equal of kings, he/she should

By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,/Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch/About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.  (ll.79-81)

These last three lines, indeed, can certainly provide a consolation to the dying as well as to the bereaved family of one who has died.

coachingcorner's profile pic

coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

'Thanatopsis' by William Cullen Bryant may well be his best known poem - he wrote it when very young. At the time he and his family wrongfully thought he was dying from TB which was a horrible slow painful death from chest disease.He wrote it as a teenager. Thanatopsis displays Bryant's own youthful idealism about this death. He seems to love the natural world and does not give much thought to heaven or God, but does seem to believe that there is a kind of life hereafter where there will be others like him, and is pleased by this - and also by the fact his body will at least be of some use! (It will go on to give nourishment to the trees!).

'Earth, that nourish'd thee, (his body)

shall claim

Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again, (be buried)And, lost each human trace, (not a person any more)surrendering up Thine individual being, shalt thou go To mix for ever with the elements, (become part of the nourishing soil.)'

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