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“Thanatopsis” written by William Cullen Bryant in 1817, is an explication of death. Thanatopsis, which is Greek for “meditation on death” (Michael et. al. 712), is an exploration into the ambiguity of death and Bryant attempts to show the relationship between death’s eternal questions and the continuance of the cycle of nature and life.
William Cullen Bryant is often described as an early Romanticist who also exhibits some characteristics of earlier types of thinking such as, Calvinism. In this poem, he establishes a clear link between God and Nature through his use of images in relation to; society, destiny, social status and everlasting trust in the afterlife. Although he views these entities from a mainly romanticist viewpoint, the poem also has many underlying attributes to a Calvinistic way of thinking.
William Cullen Bryant was born November 3rd, 1794. He was born into a Puritan family yet has was influenced by early English Romantics during his teens and by his father who encouraged him to spend time outdoors and learn from it. He wrote his first draft of “Thanatopsis” when he was just sixteen years yet the poem wasn’t actually published until 1821, when his first book of poetry, Poems was published (Bryant).
Romanticism began in the early 19th century as a way of moving away from the Enlightenment, where everything was based on reason and science. People were consistently trying to explain things in cold, hard facts. What the Romantics were trying to get people to do was do away with that rational, constricted view of life and focus on the “emotion and sentimental side of humanity” (Romanticism). It was a focus on society as being part of a group rather than individuals clearly delineated by social distinction.
In “Thanatopsis” Bryant expresses theses views in his contemplation of death and sees the beauty in it. He wants society to realize that when one dies they do not die al...
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