In what ways does "Thanatopsis" by William Cullen Bryant still speak to us today, if at all?
With all the focus on respect for nature and "going green" nowadays, William Cullen Bryant's "Thanatopsis" stands as a poem whose message is extremely relevant today, for it is a most meditative poem that gives consolation for mankind's mortality by expressing man's unity with nature:
To him who in the love of Nature holds/Communion with her visible forms, she speaks/A various language;..../
....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,..../All in one mighty sepulcher. The hills/Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,--the vales Stretching in pensive quietness between;....
The communion with nature is timeless, for nature soothes as no other force can. In recent years, there has been a movement begun fostered by Richard Louv, whose book, Last Child in the Woods has as its premise that children are afflicted with nature deficit disorder as he contends that youngsters do not spend enough time outdoors. And, studies with his groups that he takes on hikes, etc. reveal that these children now make better grades, are happier at home and generally more content in their lives. Indeed, peope can "lie down to pleasant dreams" when they have been in communion with nature throughout their lives.
Although Thanatopsis was written close to 200 years ago, I think it is a fairly timeless poem. Therefore, there is no reason that it should not still speak to us today.
The major theme of the poem is death, and how to deal with the fact that we are all mortal. That is a theme that will never stop being relevant to people (or at least I cannot imagine that it ever will). We are all faced with death and we all want (or at least I do) to feel as if there is some way to console ourselves when we think of how we will die some day.
Bryant gives us some reasons not to be sad about death. I'm not sure that they speak to me. However, the general idea of the poem, and especially the last few lines about not facing death like someone being scourged to a dungeon, definitely resonates with me.