Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant
blight – something that impairs one’s growth and deflates one’s spirit
patriarchs – males in power
hoary – grown gray with age; ancient
sepulchre – tomb
pensive – thoughtful
venerable – honorable; honored
scourged – severely punished
1. What does the poem’s title mean?
Answer: “Thanatopsis” means “Meditation on Death.”
2. When Bryant writes that Nature “speaks/A various language” and refers to Nature as “she,” what literary device is he using?
Answer: Bryant is using personification.
3. What, according to the speaker, will make the reader become “a brother to the insensible rock/And to the sluggish clod”?
Answer: According to the speaker, death and the natural decaying of the body will make one become these things.
4. Re-state Bryant’s “All that tread/The globe are but a handful to the tribes/That slumber in its bosom” in simple, modern English.
Answers will vary. Example: The number of people living on Earth is nothing compared to the number dead and buried underground.
5. The speaker tells us that we should not be upset if we die alone without friends or family to mourn us. Why, according to the speaker, should we not be troubled if this happens?
Answer: According to the speaker, “[All] that breathe” will ultimately share our “destiny,” meaning those who forsake us in life will inevitably become our companions in death, and “one by one be gathered to [our] side.”
6. What does “Thanatopsis” ultimately argue that we should do?
Answer: “Thanatopsis” ultimately argues that we should go happily, not fearfully, towards our deaths.