'Thanatopsis: A View of Death' By William Cullen Bryant

Cemetery of headstones
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A Young Person's View of Death

When I was young I was afraid of death. I was afraid when someone died in my neighborhood. When I heard that someone had died I ran home, jumped in bed and covered my head because I did not want death to find me.

That was years ago and as an ordained minister, I now preach funerals, deliver eulogies and stand over coffins and commit bodies to the grave. I preached my own brother's funeral and take part in the services of both my parents as well and having preached the funeral of several extended family members.

What happened between then and now? What made the shift in my thoughts about death and dying? What got me to take another look at death and to understand that death is not contagious like the common cold? What made me see that because someone died in my neighborhood doesn't necessary mean that I will die also?

Courses About Death

Now I know about death and dying. Now I know what the Bible clearly states will happen to us at the time we take our last breath. I teach an Eschatology course where I take my students through the sequence of death and dying until we enter into everlasting life. For you see, everybody will live eternally at one place or the other where it is the place of bliss or the place of torment. Additionally, I teach the Book of Revelation in the Eschatology course so all our findings are biblically based.

I am no longer afraid of death because Jesus took the sting out of death. I am no longer afraid of dying because Jesus took the victory out of the grave. I am homesick for heaven because the Bible says that's the way all Christians should be. We should say everyday, "Come Lord, Jesus" according to Revelation 22:20.

Meaning of "Thanatopsis"

I began seeing the shift in my thinking even before I became a minister and studied about what happened at the time of death. In college, I was an English major and required to take courses in English Literature, Romantic Literature, American Literature, Shakespeare, and Chaucer. It was during my American Literature class that I was introduced to the poet William Cullen Bryant who at the age of 17 wrote "Thanatopsis," a poem that people couldn't believe he wrote because of it deep and profound meaning.

"Thanatopsis" means "a view of death."The title comes from the Greek word "thanatos" meaning "death" and "opsis" meaning "sight." Some people translate is as "Meditation Upon Death." I like to call it "A View of Death." And to make it more personal, I refer to it as "My View of Death."

Famous Lines of Thanatopsis

Even though William Cullen Bryant wrote "Thanatopsis" when he was 17, he did not write the introduction and concluding lines until ten years later. In fact, I like those lines so much I'm requesting those lines to put on my tombstone that is definitely my view of death. William Cullen Bryant says we are to so live that when it is time for us to die, we should not fight it, but welcome it. We should not be afraid like a slave at night in a dungeon but instead we should be sustained an soothed with an unfaltering trust approaching our grave like one who wraps the covers from his bed around him and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Like Bryant, I believe death should be a wonderful experience!

Last Lines of Thanatopsis

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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Comments 6 comments

Betty Johansen profile image

Betty Johansen 5 years ago

It has been a long, long time since I read those lines from Thanatopsis. They are beautiful and wise. And so is this hub. Thank you for writing it!


revmjm profile image

revmjm 5 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

Betty, thank you for your comment. It is good to know you are also familiar with these last lines from Thanatopsis.


Dave Mathews profile image

Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

Having gone through so many different hardships at a very early time in my life, at 17 I decided to join the Canadian Army. While in there I received my driver's licence and my instructor told me that if I became an organ donor, that the Provincial Government would pay for the disposal of my remains, thus removing a big financial expense and burden from my family. I jumped at that opportunity and from that day, I have looked forward to the day I die. Of course I also knew that as a spiritual being, my real home was with God in heaven which made the decision even that much more meaningful.

Just the thought of being an organ donor is like fulfilling a special scripture of Jesus, as He tells His followers the following: JOHN: 15: 13;"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend."

As Christians, we MUST ALL realize that we, created in God's image are spirits, God Himself being a spirit, the spirit that embodies true love.


revmjm profile image

revmjm 5 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

Dave: I too have chosen to be an organ donor. Thanks for sharing your story about this.


stessily 5 years ago

"Thanatopsis" is one of many poems that I associate with my mother because I remember her quoting different lines at different times in my childhood. I immediately thought of William Cullen Bryant's poem when I saw the title of this hub, and I hoped that you would incorporate it into the hub. You did not disappoint me! I understand having those last nine lines on your tombstone. I've always liked the way the poem ends, by equating death with lying "down to pleasant dreams." Thank you for a lovely, inspiring hub that evokes wonderful thoughts and wonderful memories for me.


revmjm profile image

revmjm 5 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

Stessily, thank you for having this conversation with me about "Thanatopsis." There are not many people who know about the poem and can relate to its deep theological meaning the way you did. I am glad I did not disappoint you by including the last nine lines. I hope some of my other hubs will warrant the same type of response from you.

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