Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Another Weird Word of the Week: Thanatopsis

Madame L thanks Jeff for suggesting this word. It's the title of a poem written in 1814 by William Cullen Bryant. 

The word "thanatopsis" comes from the Greek words "thantos" (death) and "opsis" (seeing).

Thus, Thanatopsis: Seeing (or Thinking About) Death.

Here's the entire poem, thanks to the VCU English Department: 

If you want to skip the poem and go straight to Madame L's interpretation, below, Madame L is sure the VCU English Dept. won't mind. 

Because they won't know, will they. Speaking of which,  Madame L hereby deletes most of the poem "Thanatopsis," which she had originally included here in its entirety. And you know why? Because Madame L thinks this poem takes up too much space in the world already.


by William Cullen Bryant

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
...When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, ...
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
... The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.
Yet not to thy eternal resting place
Shalt thou retire alone...Thou shalt lie down

With patriarchs of the infant world--with kings
... 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....and what if thou shalt fall
Unnoticed by the living--and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. ...
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, that moves
To the pale realms of shade,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustain'd and sooth'd
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Dear Readers, Madame L has just cut out more than half of this poem, and she is still having a hard time facing it---- and she was an English major in college! 

Here's the gist of it: 

When you're afraid of dying, just remember that it won't be so bad. 

In fact, if you die young, so much the better. 

Nature this, nature that.

Nature here,

Nature there,

Nature everywhere.

Nature warning you, 

Nature comforting you. 

More nature. 

And more nature. 

Blah blah blah blah.

And nature.

And blah blah blah blah blah.

Bryant wrote his first draft of this poem when he was 17 years old, added some bits later. Why? Madame L has no idea.

Here, thanks to schmoop.com, are links to some other poems/songs dealing with facing death:

Then, as Jeff mentioned in his comment, there's the fictional thanator, the "dry mouth bringer of fear" on Pandora.  Great name for a great creature in a great movie!


LFP said...

I think I very much would have enjoyed having Madame L as an English teacher if we would have been allowed to interpret poems that way. Nice words, but yeah - that's the point. Why belabor it, right?

AskTheGeologist said...

I was forced to read Thanatopsis in high school. Yes: Miss Wormwood's favorite form of torture. As a 17-yr-old, I thought I could do a WHOLE HECKUVA lot better than that.
Here's MY 17-yr-old Death Haiku:


The End.