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by William Cullen Bryant

Thanatopsis Theme of Spirituality

This might be the trickiest theme of them all.  "Thanatopsis" doesn’t talk directly about any kind of religion.  Still, the idea of death is all tied up in questions of spirituality.  It’s like an undercurrent in this poem, rarely out in the open, but always there.  What happens to us after we die?  Does the soul live on?  Those are definitely spiritual questions, and even if the poem doesn’t address them directly, they are still definitely in play.

Questions About Spirituality

  1. Do you think the poem starts out on a spiritual note?  Does the speaker think we should have a spiritual relationship with nature?
  2. Do you think the ending of the poem is particularly spiritual?  Do you think it fits in with the rest of the poem?
  3. Would it be possible to tackle the subject of death without making any reference to spirituality?  Do you think death and spiritual questions are tied together?
  4. Do you get the sense that the speaker of this poem wants us to believe in an afterlife?

Chew on This

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

In spite of the comforting tone of the final line, the poem mostly directs our attention away from spiritual concerns.  Instead, it attempts to reassure us by focusing our attention on the ordinary, un-dramatic fact of human death.

Bryant avoids religious rhetoric, instead using broadly spiritual language.  In this way, he can address feelings shared by almost all human beings, rather than just those with particular beliefs.

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