Thanatopsis

By William Cullen Bryant 1794–1878
     To him who in the love of Nature holds   
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks   
A various language; for his gayer hours   
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile   
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides   
Into his darker musings, with a mild   
And healing sympathy, that steals away   
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts   
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight   
Over thy spirit, and sad images   
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,   
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,   
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—   
Go forth, under the open sky, and list   
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice—
                                       Yet a few days, and thee   
The all-beholding sun shall see no more   
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,   
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,   
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist   
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim   
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up   
Thine individual being, shalt thou go   
To mix for ever with the elements,   
To be a brother to the insensible rock   
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain   
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak   
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.  
     Yet not to thine eternal resting-place   
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish   
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down   
With patriarchs of the infant world—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 hills   
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales   
Stretching in pensive quietness between;   
The venerable woods—rivers that move   
In majesty, and the complaining brooks   
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,   
Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste,—   
Are but the solemn decorations all   
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,   
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,   
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,   
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread   
The globe are but a handful to the tribes   
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings   
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,   
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods   
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,   
Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:   
And millions in those solitudes, since first   
The flight of years began, have laid them down   
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw   
In silence from the living, and no friend   
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe   
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care   
Plod on, and each one as before will chase   
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave   
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train   
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,   
The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes   
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,   
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—   
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,   
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.  
     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.

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Poet William Cullen Bryant 1794–1878

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Living, Death, Nature

 William Cullen Bryant

Biography

No line of his poetry survives in the consciousness of his nation, and none of his editorial pronouncements still resonates from his five decades with the New-York Evening Post, yet William Cullen Bryant stood among the most celebrated figures in the frieze of nineteenth-century America. The fame he won as a poet while in his youth remained with him as he entered his eighties; only Longfellow and Emerson were his rivals in . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Nature

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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