Descriptions and details that create a mood in Thanatopsis poem by William Cullen Bryant?

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jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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The word thanatopsis  means an essay that expresses a view about death.  William Cullen Bryant, in his poem "Thanatopsis," uses a variety of images to symbolize his thoughts about death.

Some of the images create a sad, almost depressed mood:

     * "the shroud, and pall, / And breathless darkness,

         and the narrow house..." 

     *  "the cold ground
Where thy pale form was laid with many tears..."

     * "To be a brother to the insensible rock
And to the sluggish clod..."

A different set of images conveys the comforting idea that the dead person will not be alone in death--he will be together with all those who have already died:

 Yet not to thine eternal resting place
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. 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 mighty sepulchre.

The poem ends on a hopeful note.  Bryant says that if a person lives a morally correct life, death will be painless and even pleasant,

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

 

 

 

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