Regarding the poem "Thanatopsis", what is the significance of the title?

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caledon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The title "Thanatopsis" is a combination of the Greek root words "Thanatos", the embodiment of death, and "-opsis", referring to vision. We could interpret this in a variety of ways, such as "A vision of death", "what death sees", "seeing death", and so forth. The fact that the meaning is confined to death and vision, while still being open to specific interpretation, influences our reading of the poem and its meaning. It gives us a standpoint from which our perspective will be colored; consider, for example, the fact that the word "death" is only mentioned twice in the poem...yet if we are viewing the poem from the perspective of a "vision of death", the actual mention of death is not really necessary in order for us to understand that the author's message, imagery and intent is one that regards death. In effect, this allows the author a broader and more liberal usage of words. Since it is not necessary to make the audience aware of the poem's focus on death, things which are not traditionally associated with death may be employed, and somewhat distorted, by the reader's understanding that they are meant to be associated with death.

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