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William Cullen Bryant (1794—1878)


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Blank-verse poem by Bryant, written when he was 16 years old, after reading Blair's Grave, Cowper's Task, and various poems by Southey and Henry Kirke White. The early version of “Thanatopsis,” whose Greek title means “view of death,” was published in The North American Review (1817). It lacked the first 17 lines and the last 15 of the present work, which was first collected in the author's Poems (1821). These passages materially altered the philosophic significance of the poem, in which Nature, rather than the author's “better genius,” now discusses death. Nature speaks a varied language to man, the poet observes; when “thoughts of the last bitter hour” come, it teaches that earth claims all it has nourished. Man must therefore learn to conduct his life in such a way that he need have no fear when his summons comes to join the “innumerable caravan.”

Subjects: Literature.

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