I'm having trouble understanding "Thanatopsis" by William Cullen Bryant and need help interpreting it.I kind of have an idea of what it is about but I have many questions. So, if someone can help...

I'm having trouble understanding "Thanatopsis" by William Cullen Bryant and need help interpreting it.

I kind of have an idea of what it is about but I have many questions. So, if someone can help me interpret it, thank you so much!

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Key to understanding this masterful example of American Romantic poetry is the context of the times. Bryant was writing as part of the Romantic movement - a movement that started as a reaction to widespread industrialisation, the focus on reason and the spread of cities with the subsequent health issues that arose. Romantic poets argued that man had lost his link with nature and declared that men needed to return to nature - being in touch with our environment and being open to what nature can teach us could inspire us and help us find meaning and purpose in our lives.

The speaker of this poem therefore celebrates and muses upon Nature as something that mirrors his happy moods and likewise is able to cure him "with a mild / And healing sympathy" of his darker thoughts, especially focussing on death. The voice of nature declares that when we die, our "beings" become part of Nature as a whole, and so we join all those who have died before us. The speaker therefore tries to persuade us to live our lives in such a way that when we die, we can enter death trusting in death and that it will be not something to be scared of, but instead:

Like one who wraps the dapery of his couch

About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

The poem then reinforces the Romantic view that the universe is a living organism by showing how the dead become part of Nature's cycle of rebirth. This comforts the speaker because it emphasises the unity of the living and the dead. Hope this helps!

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Thanatopsis

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