by William Cullen Bryant
Analysis: What's Up With the Title?
Yeah, we definitely had to look this one up. Here’s the basic deal. This title is put together from two Greek words: "thanatos" (which means "death") and "opsis" (meaning "view," or "sight" – that’s where we get the English word "optic"). When we put it together, thanatopsis means literally "a view of death," although some have suggested that "contemplation of death" is a better English translation. In any case, once we’ve done the translating, this title definitely tells us what this poem is all about: death.
You might wonder why Bryant would pick a Greek title for this poem. Well, it’s one way for a young American guy to show a little class. His title hints that he knows enough about the ancient world and the traditions of poetry to be worth taking seriously.