thanatopsis

Thanatopsis   (Meditation on  death [Greek])

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 mold.

Yet not  to thine eternal resting-place
Shall  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,  traverse Barca’s  desert sands,
Or lose  thyself  in the  continuous woods
Where rolls  the  Oregan, 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,
And  the  sweet  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.

////////

almost all of this was written by william cullen bryant when he was 17 years old

only a few lines at the beginning and the end were added 10 years later

critics at the time did not believe such verse could have been written in america…

this is one of my all-time favorite poems

i will follow this one up with another, similarly themed poem in the near future

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