Poets And Poetry

Poetry Analysis Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant

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Thanatopsis is a classic American poem written by the poet William Cullen Bryant. In this poem, he deals with the topic of life, and in the end, death. He starts writing about the beauty of nature and how it can help to soothe the soul, and how it can be a positive part of life, but then changes his tone, because as life goes on, nature takes a different role. As humans age, nature is no longer a “friend”, but many try to fight nature. Bryant encourages everyone to take a different stand on death, because it is inevitable, after all. He suggests in the end that we should be ready to go willingly. This poem was written in the earlier years of his life, so he might be writing for his own encouragement as well as everyone else's.

The speaker in this poem is a third person narrator, who is “surveying” his surroundings and giving valuable life advice. There are no true characters in the poem, simply wisdom. It could almost be considered proverbial itself. The tone of the poem started out peaceful, and enjoyable, but halfway through, it contrastingly talked about death, and gave honest bits of knowledge and wisdom about death. The only tension in the story was in the discussion, as there were no characters to have any tension amongst them. Though the poem was written way back in the mid 1800s, the truths of it still remain today.

The word choice was obviously extremely carefully picked. It is formal, and tactful, and surprisingly, it flows very well. The poem has a rhythm to it, it has to because there is no rhyme scheme to it. The rhythm is difficult to follow in many places, it would have to be read by its author to actually hear the correct rhythm. Since that's impossible, we can read it with our own rhythm, and it would sound good.

A lot of imagery happens in Thanatopsis. Bryant wrote so much about nature and its description, in fact, that nature itself could be considered the “main character”, though in this poem, it is both the protagonist and the antagonist. He also used a few metaphors and a lot of symbolism.

The poem structure is fairly relaxed. There are multiple line breaks in odd places, and periods in mid-line, no doubt to influence the rhythm. Also there is no rhyme scheme whatsoever, so the form of the poem is entirely reliant upon the rhythm. Though the form is relaxed, Thanatopsis is still considered a classic poem due to its bitter truth expressed in such a poetic and tactful way.

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