This article is about the poem. For the band, see Thanatopsis (band).
"Thanatopsis" is a poem by American poet William Cullen Bryant.
The title is from the Greek thanatos
("death") and the suffix -opsis (literally, "sight"); it has often been translated as "Meditation upon Death".
Due to the unusual quality of the verse and Bryant's age when first published in 1817 by the North American Review, Richard Henry Dana, then associate editor at the Review, initially doubted its authenticity, saying to another editor, "No one, on this side of the Atlantic, is capable of writing such verses." Although the bulk of the poem was written at age 16, Bryant added the introductory and concluding lines 10 years later in 1821.
Written by Bryant at the age of 17, "Thanatopsis" is considered to be a masterpiece of American poetry. "Thanatopsis" remains a significant milestone in American literary history.
Poet and literary critic Thomas Holley Chivers said that the "only thing [Bryant] ever wrote that may be called Poetry is 'Thanatopsis', which he stole line for line from the Spanish. Chivers often accused other writers of stealing poems.
Appearances in popular culture
Wolcott Gibbs mentions the poem in his humor piece "Death in the Rumble Seat," which appeared in the New Yorker. He writes that the poem is "neither beautiful nor necessary, but hogwash."
- Max Cavitch, American Elegy: The Poetry of Mourning from the Puritans to Whitman (University of Minnesota Press, 2007). Includes a chapter on the poem. ISBN 081664893X
- Connie Willis, Ado (Asimov's Science Ficion, 1988) A short story about political correctness and religious vigilance run amok on campus mentions this poem.