- Thanatopsis Than`a*top"sis (th[a^]n`[.a]*t[o^]p"s[i^]s), prop.
n. [NL., fr. Gr. qa`natos death + 'o`psis view.]
The title of a poem by William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878),
meditating on the subject of death. One of Bryant's
best-remembered poems, it was written in 1811 and was
discovered and rushed to publication in 1817 (in the North
American Review) by Bryant's father, originally without the
poet's knowledge. A revised version was published in 1821. In
this elegy Bryant reflects that death comes to all men,
common and great, and that all eventually shall rest together
in the "mighty sepulchre" of the earth.
Note: The text of the poem is as follows: 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 forever 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 mold. 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 glides away, the sons of men The youth in life's fresh 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. [PJC]
The Collaborative International Dictionary of English. 2000.