Thanatopsis Analysis

William Cullen Bryant and Chief Seattle write about nature and about its connection to humanity in their pieces, Thanatopsis and Chief of Seattle respectively. The name of Bryant’s poem, Thanatopsis, comes from the Greek words, “thantos,” meaning death, and “opsis,” meaning sight, and is often translated as “a meditation on death.”

Seattle’s speech focuses on nature’s relationship to humanity and about how she should thus be treated. Both works accurately discuss nature’s roll in mankind’s journey through life, and both do so with different focal points.

Bryant’s poem focuses on the idea of death and on nature’s teaching to live life to the fullest. Seattle speaks mostly of how connected nature is to mankind and about the respect that one must give her.

Bryant expresses one of the chief messages in Thanatopsis when he writes, “All that breathe/ Will share thy destiny.” (60-61) Here, he explains that all men who live with nature and walk upon the earth, and breathe her fresh air, will share the same destiny.

More specifically, nature does not see a wealthy king any differently than she sees his poor servant, nor does she recognize the color of one’s skin. Nature sees all men as the same and leads them all to the same final destination, the same resting place. This concept of uniform destiny is connected to Bryant’s overarching message in Thanatopsis, which is live life to the fullest.

Bryant sums up his various messages under one of nature’s most powerful lessons, which is to seize the day.

He expresses this moral at the end of the poem: Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,

Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and smoothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

In this selection, nature’s lesson to seize the day is most evident. One must accept the fact that one day they will die, and return to the earth just
like all of those around them. Therefore, nature teaches that one should live life to the fullest and enjoy everyday they have to bask in the glory of nature’s many gifts. When the time of death approaches, one should not be afraid of it, but rather embrace it as the closing of a life well lived. He should think of death as “lying down to pleasant dreams,” rather than fear it. Soon he, like those before him who have passed, will go to a place where “the dead reign there alone.” (57)