How can you compare and contrast Dickinson's poem "Because I could not stop for Death-" with William Cullen Bryant's poem "Thanatopsis?" Explain.Compare and contrast theme, tone, subject matter,...

How can you compare and contrast Dickinson's poem "Because I could not stop for Death-" with William Cullen Bryant's poem "Thanatopsis?" Explain.

Compare and contrast theme, tone, subject matter, and figures of speech. (:

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both Bryant's and Dickinson's poems are about death. In "Thanatopsis," ('meditation on death'), death is described as something natural, something that everyone will experience, and the general implication is that death is pleasant outcome. In "Because I Could Not Stop for Death," death is described as a seducer and/or a guide. In both poems, death is not some gloomy, horrifying event; rather, death is a journey (in Dickinson) and a peaceful, eternal rest (in Bryant). 

Death is personified in Dickinson's poem and Nature is personified in "Thanatopsis." In "Thanatopsis," the speaker advises that when faced with darkness or death, one should look to Nature and take comfort in the (also personified) Earth: 

Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim

Thy growth, to be resolv'd to earth again; 

And, lost each human trace, surrend'ring up

Thine individual being, shalt thou go

To mix forever with the elements, (22-26). 

In this poem, to die is to be reunited with the Earth (that which made life possible). The speaker goes on to say that all who die are, in a literal and figurative (or spiritual) sense, reunited. As it is natural to die, Nature guides the living to death. In Dickinson's poem, Death guides the speaker to eternity. 

In many interpretations, Bryant's poem describes death as something we should view with comfort. In Dickinson's poem, because Death is personified, there is a more foreboding tone. However, the tone is still (relative to gloomier death poems) playful in that Death is a "civil" guide.

Both poems provide suppositions on what death might be like. In "Thanatopsis," the speaker is making an argument that death is a natural, peaceful occurrence. In "Because I Could Not Stop for Death," the speaker describes the journey that is death. There are many ways to interpret what each poem has to say about an afterlife. Without delving into those interpretations, it is sufficient to say that each poem is a hypothesis about the nature (or human experience) of death. 

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