Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

“Thanatopsis” means “views on” or “vision of” death in Greek, which alludes to the poem’s content. The poet begins by describing nature, specifically saying that those who enjoy nature will appreciate its diversity. Nature, too, can be a balm or source of sympathy for those who are depressed at the prospect of death.

The speaker encourages his audience not to fear death, as he will be restored to the earth from which he sprung. He will be surrounded by rocks and soil. Essentially, the poet encourages the speaker not to fear death, as death returns us to nature, which we know (from our experience living) to be lovely and variegated.

Furthermore, the speaker reminds us that no one dies alone; we will be accompanied by every living person who has gone before us. After all, the number of people who are dead are much greater than even all of those on earth.

The speaker reinforces that, by returning to earth, the dead become part of the soil and therefore part of the living wilderness. Even if one dies alone, he will share in the fate of everyone who passed before him when he becomes part of the earth again.

The speaker encourages the audience to continue to live his life to the fullest, enjoying the things that make him happy; however, he should not be surprised when death (whose arrival is impossible to predict) should come for him. The speaker enjoins his audience not to face death with reluctance (as a slave going to a quarry), but rather to shore up his trust in death and face it with the peace of mind of one lying down to rest. The metaphor of death as sleep is a common one, and the poet uses this to remind us that we should not fear death but embrace welcome it as a natural process.

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