We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Transcendentalist Death in Bryant’s Thanatopsis

essay
The whole doc is available only for registered users OPEN DOC

A limited time offer! Get a custom sample essay written according to your requirements urgent 3h delivery guaranteed

Order Now

William Cullen Bryant’s Thanatopsis is a romantic, democratic and triumphant picture of death. The poem portrays death more as a metaphysical and ontological phenomenon than a material and empirical one. Bryant’s meditation moves away from the decay of the corporeal (the imperfect) to highlight the rebirth of the spiritual (the perfect). For Bryant, death is not synonymous with disintegration and degeneration. As Nature’s mechanism, death signifies the re-integration of a lesser but no less valuable being to the greater whole, “the mighty sepulcher” (line 37). Here the Romantic strain in Bryant is visible: “…Earth that nourished thee shall claim/ Thy growth to be resolved to earth again/ …To mix forever with the elements/ To be a brother to the insensible rock” (22-28).

The demise of the body is not an end, or better yet, the end but only a transitional phase. Death is a rite of passage to another form of life; a higher, if not the highest level of existence. Bryant’s depiction of death is also paradoxical. The poet is able to “kill” death by making it inseparable with immortality (something reminiscent of Donne’s classic lament: “Death thou shall die!”).

The afterlife, meanwhile, he sees as a reflection of the natural world in its consummate state. The domain of the dead is immune to change and decay, ills that plague the world of the living: “The planets, all the infinite host of heaven/ Are shining on the sad abode of death/ Through the still lapse of ages…” (46-48). That the other-world is idyllic and ideal owes to its proximity with Nature, literally and metaphorically.

Paradoxically, the death of the individual does not severe his or her ties with the collective: “…and what if thou withdraw/ In silence from the living and no friend/ take note of thy departure” (58-60). The inevitability and necessity of mortality prove are consoling, assuring the dead that “…all that breathe/ Will share thy destiny” (60-61). Bryant imagines an other-world “society” peopled “With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings/ The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good” (34-35), a potent manifestation of death as the great leveler.

The extinction of the individual self coincides with the dissolution of the superficial, imperfect and worldly personality—that is, the I detached from Nature. The individual becomes faceless—a return to the primal state. Such condition is not analogous with oblivion and non-existence. The dead may have “…lost each human trace, surrendering up/ Thine individual being” (24-25). But his or her presence and essence as intertwined with Nature remain: “…yet the dead are there/ … In sleep –the dead reigns there alone” (54-57).

Bryant’s view of death is considerably divorced from the rigid Calvinist and Puritan credo. What surfaces in his poem is the Transcendentalist spirit, what critic Darrel Abel (1963) calls the “Romantic-Puritan renascence” (p. 2). Bryant’s depiction of death is akin to modern theology in that it challenges and loosens petrified religious values, for instance, the doctrine of the Elect.

Death bears a promise of salvation for all: “Thou go not like the quarry-slave at night/ Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed/ …Like one wraps the drapery of his couch/

About him and lie down to pleasant dreams” (77-81). Prospects of inevitable doom disappear. As with other Transcendentalist work, Bryant’s breakaway philosophical take “combined the idea of power and glory to be liberated in common individuals…” (Abel, 1963, p. 1).

            Bryant privileges the individual’s inherent beauty, “moral capability” gives way to “moral depravity” (Abel, 1963, p. 2). The Omnipotent in the form of Nature is made more accessible to the individual. More importantly, Bryant has done away with the image of the unforgiving and unique God, placing in its stead a pluralistic and tolerant Creator.

References

Abel, D. (1963). American literature: literature of the Atlantic culture (Vol. 2). New York:

            Barron’s Educational Series.

Bryant, W. C. (1998). Thanatopsis. In P. Lauter et al (Eds.), Heath anthology of American

literature: early nineteenth century: 1800-1865 (pp. 2672-2674). Massachusetts: D. C Heath.

Related Topics

We can write a custom essay

According to Your Specific Requirements

Order an essay
Get Access To The Full Essay
icon
300+
Materials Daily
icon
100,000+ Subjects
2000+ Topics
icon
Free Plagiarism
Checker
icon
All Materials
are Cataloged Well

Sorry, but copying text is forbidden on this website. If you need this or any other sample, we can send it to you via email.

By clicking "SEND", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.
Sorry, but only registered users have full access

How about getting this access
immediately?

Become a member

Your Answer Is Very Helpful For Us
Thank You A Lot!

logo

Emma Taylor

online

Hi there!
Would you like to get such a paper?
How about getting a customized one?

Can't find What you were Looking for?

Get access to our huge, continuously updated knowledge base

The next update will be in:
14 : 59 : 59
Become a Member