The poem's title means "Vision of Death." Describe the vision of death.

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boomer-sooner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Cullen Bryant's Thanatopsis is a poem meaning "a vision of death".  The verse centers around the musings of life as death grows near.  Bryant refers not only to death but the trappings of a funeral in the poem.

Unlike many death poems, Bryant does not refer to death as a person but personifies Nature in a feminine form.  She "has a voice of gladness" and "eloquence of beauty", but she glides into his "darker musings".  The first death vision is here.  The musings are tied with the "last bitter hour," to form the vision of death.

Additional references point to the physical appointment of death.  The "narrow house" is a reference to a coffin and the grave is shown by the "sun shall see no more."  Bryant continues to state the world will continue without the departed.  The "gay will laugh", and the "brood...plod on."  However, he also notes they will join the departed in death as well.  This is a reminder no one escapes death.

As the poem concludes, Bryant is assuring the reader the vision of death should not be feared but it should be "sustained and soothed" because the world will continue and will also go to death.  Death is part of life and brings about the "mysterious realm, where each shall take/His chamber". 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bryant's meditative poem "Thanatopsis"--Thanatos was Death personified for the Greeks--describes a vision that places the deceased in the company of the wisest and most powerful humans who have ever lived.

In this poem Nature acts as succor to those confronted with the sad reality of death if they will listen to Nature's teachings. That is, Nature will reclaim them and they can mix with the elements and a brother to the insensible rock
And to the sluggish clod.... The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mold.

For those who fear the solitude or the indignity of death, Nature will place them in the company of the wise and powerful humans who have died. For in the earth the deceased mix with kings and seers of past ages and become their equals. Among those who die, the young and old alike will join those who have died long before and be unified in the world's earthly regions. Then all barriers and deprivations will cease for those who have suffered.

Bryant concludes with the consolation that for those who find their lives nearing the end, they will not be taken "like the quarry at night" who is thrown into a dungeon of the earth. Instead, they will be soothed in the knowledge that they will sleep in the earth with kings and become part of the beauty of Nature.

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