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by William Cullen Bryant

Thanatopsis Theme of Sadness

We’re not sure that "Thanatopsis" is a completely sad poem.  In fact, we think it has a lot of comforting, hopeful moments.  Still, you can’t completely separate death and sadness, and sadness is a theme that crops up all over in this poem.  It touches on the sadness we feel when we think about death and the grief people feel when their loved one’s die. 

Questions About Sadness

  1. Does this poem make sadness into a bad thing? 
  2. Is the speaker trying to get you to feel happy about death?
  3. Do you think there are multiple kinds of sadness in this poem, or is it pretty much the same feeling all the way through?
  4. Do you think poems have the power to really make us feel less sad?  Can death ever be separated from feelings of sadness?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Bryant uses his poem not to get rid of all sadness about death, but to take the terror out of it.

"Thanatopsis" uses vast images of time and space to destroy our feelings of sadness, to crush them under the huge weight of eternity.

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