Which lines in this excerpt from William Cullen Bryant's "Thanatopsis" best indicate the theme of the poem?   So live, that when thy summons comes to join The innumerable caravan, which movesTo that mysterious realm, where each shall takeHis chamber in the silent halls of death,Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothedBy an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,Like one who wraps the drapery of his couchAbout him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

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The theme of William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis,” published in 1817, is that death is nothing to be afraid of. The poem begins by describing nature, and commands us to "Go forth, under the open sky, and list / To Nature’s teachings” (14-15). To “list” here means to listen; With this, Bryant makes the very Wordsworthian assertion that in life, we should turn to nature for personal edification. Then the poem turns grim. Bryant reminds us that one day, we’ll die. We’ll be “resolved to Earth again” and “mix for ever with the elements” (23, 26). However, Bryant then reveals why we shouldn’t dread this fate. He states, “Yet not to thine eternal resting-place / Shalt thou retire alone,” and then, “Thou shalt lie down / With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings, / The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good” (31-32, 33-35). These lines may be interpreted in two distinct ways. Firstly, Bryant may be positing a Christian worldview, and that when we die, we’ll be taken to heaven and join the company of the world’s most prominent individuals. Secondly, he may be suggesting that since everyone eventually dies, our ultimate fate is equal to that of kings and the wisest and best among us, and thus we should be content with this fate. Either way, he concludes, we should be resigned to our destiny, and be calm and satisfied in death. The last five lines of the poem best evoke this theme, for they state that we should not meet our deaths in distress or vexation, but rather collected and at peace.

 

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