The poem “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant reveals a very unusual aspect of nature. While most people think of nature as beauty and full of life, Bryant takes a more interesting approach to nature. He exposes a correlation between nature, life, death, and re-birth. Using nature as a foothold, Bryant exercises methods such as tone, setting, and imagery in a very intriguing way while writing “Thanatopsis.” First, tone is a very important aspect of the poem “Thanatopsis.” While reading the poem, the reader may feel a slight change in the tone of the poem. At first the poem seems as though it were about nature and its beauty. For example, in the poem Bryant writes “She has a voice of gladness, and a smile/And eloquence of beauty, and she glides.” (4-5) Here, the tone is happy and elegant.
Also, the reader is under the impression that nature is a safe and beautiful place. However, as the reader continues on, one may notice a sudden shift in tone. Bryant writes, “Into his darker musings, with a mild/And gentle sympathy, that steals away/ Their sharpness, ere he is aware.” (6-8) Here, the tone shifts to dark and gloomy. Throughout the poem Bryant uses numerous words or phrases that relate to death. One very noticeable instance of this is in lines nine and 11. Bryant uses the words such as shroud, pall, and narrow house.
Shroud and pall are both word related to coffins. A shroud is a cloth used to wrap a body before burial. A pall is the cover to a coffin. This depicts the sinister and dim thoughts that a person may have about death.
... takes a distinct turn from the tone of the first poem; it is tone is one of animosity towards Helen. ... first line, "All Greece hates", sets the tone of the poem. The last two lines, "only if she ... the same person they cause the reader to have two completely different perceptions of her. ... Greece. The author's diction is especially effective. With words such as "hate" and "reviles" the speaker shows ...
The long narrow house is referring to the long, dark grave that the dead are lowered into. By the end of the poem there is another shift in tone. The tone takes on a more hopeful meaning. Now, Bryant uses the spring season to compare to a new age. He mentions, “The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes/ In the full strength of years, matron, and maid, / The bow’d with age, the infant in the smiles.” (68-70) The rebirth of human life compares to nature in the sense that when nature is reborn in springtime everything turns green. The reader ends the poem with an enlightened sense of feeling instead of the dark and gloomy feeling they felt at the beginning of the poem.
Another technique that Bryant uses in “Thanatopsis” is setting. This entire poem takes place somewhere in nature. However, when both aspects of the poem are looked into, the poem may also take place in the speakers mind. The speaker is using nature as a way to think about death. In a way, it seems as though nature will help make death more understandable. Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” contains specific details: Go forth under the open sky, and list/ To Nature’s teachings, while from all around — /…
/ — Comes a still voice” (14-17) There are many key words in this single thought. “Go forth under the open sky” means when one dies and ascends upon heaven. Another key phrase is “Nature’s teachings.” It is what nature has to teach about death to help the speaker understand the concept of death. Also, it sets the theme for the entire poem. In lines 16 and 17 when the speaker talks about the still voice, he / she is referring to God. When one reaches heaven they will meet God and he will speak to you.
Finally, Bryant uses symbols throughout “Thanatopsis.” Bryant does an exquisite job of using symbols to compare nature and death. There are plenty of symbols in “Thanatopsis,” but only a few are prominent to the reader. The speaker refers to a woman throughout the poem. However, it is not really a human being.
... metaphors of death. I feel that Bryant is expressing his sorrow for the inevitable. In many places throughout the poem he refers to death with ... a contemplation of nature. Within the lines Bryant compares the eternal question of death with the ongoing cycle of nature and life. Bryant makes the ...
Words such as “she” or “her” refer to mother nature speaking to mankind. The speaker mentions: Rock-ribb’d and ancient as the sun, — the vales Stretching in pensive quietness between; The vernal woods — rivers that move In majesty, and the complaining brooks That make the meadows green; and pour’d round all, Old ocean’s grey and melancholy waste, — Are but the solemn decorations all Of the great tomb of man. (35-45) There is significance between all of the beauties that nature holds and death. All of the beauties and landscapes of nature are just mere decorations of the ground that the dead are lowered into. Another symbolic meaning is held within the phrase “last bitter hour.” (9) The last bitter hour has a very important relationship with nature. The last hour refers to the only true or “natural” fact of ones life, the fact that life will sometime come to an end.
Nature is full of beauty and elegance. One may never really think of nature having anything to do with death. For death is a dark, gloomy though that one has difficulty understanding. In the poem “Thanatopsis”, Bryant uses the tone, setting, and symbols of nature to help the reader realize that nature does indeed have dark ties with death.