Thanatopsis "Like One Who Wraps The Drapery Of His Couch About Him"

William Cullen Bryant

"Like One Who Wraps The Drapery Of His Couch About Him"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: "Thanatopsis" provides a consolation for human beings in the face of inevitable death. Nature, the poet says, "speaks a various language" to those who hold "Communion with her visible forms." She cheers us during "gayer hours" and consoles us during times of sadness. When we think of death, Nature teaches us how to meet our "last bitter hour." We shall soon die, Nature bluntly tells us, and the roots of the oak will pierce our bodies. But we shall die in good company. We shall lie down with "patriarchs . . ., with kings,/ The powerful of the earth, the wise, the good,/ Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,/ All in one mighty sepulchre." The dead outnumber the living. The dying man is not alone: "All that breathe/ Will share thy destiny." As time passes, old and young shall die and be buried "By those, who in their turn shall follow them." We shall die, Bryant tells us, but we must meet death without fear, for all of us shall be joined together in the grave. The noble ending is pagan rather than Christian, for Bryant advises the dying human to put his religious faith in Nature, which the poet sees as the companion and counselor of mankind:

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death.
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.