Study Guide

Thanatopsis Lines 14-21

By William Cullen Bryant

Lines 14-21

Lines 14-15

Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—

  • Suddenly, we’re set free. The speaker tells us to go outside, "under the open sky." That’s a big relief, given that just two lines ago, we were trapped in a grave underground (line 12).
  • Suddenly we’re back with "Nature" and we’re being told to "list" (a fancy poetic way of saying listen) to her "teachings." Those teachings are all around us in the great outdoors.

Lines 16-17

Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice— Yet a few days, and thee

  • The "voice" of Nature comes from the "Earth," the "waters," and the "air."
  • It’s really important that the poem calls Nature's voice a "still" voice. That means, calm and quiet, and it gives this line a feeling of peace and comfort. Things are going to be OK.
  • Or maybe not. What's up with the "Yet a few days" bit? Well, at the end of line 16, there’s another shift. Apparently something is going to happen in a few days, and we're guessing it's going to have something to do with death...

Line 18

The all-beholding sun shall see no more

  • Bad news! Apparently we’re going to die in a few days.
  • The speaker tries to make it sound pretty, but really he's telling us we're going to die soon. Even the sun, which sees everything ("all-beholding") won’t be able to see us any more. We’re just going to vanish.

Lines 19-21

In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist

  • Now we go on a little tour, as the speaker tells us all the places we won’t be after we die.
  • We won’t be on land, where the sun runs "all his course" (that’s the path the sun follows over a day).
  • We also won’t be in the "cold ground," where our crying relatives bury our corpse during our funeral.
  • We won’t be in the "embrace of the ocean" either.
  • So wait. Where will we be? We've talked about a land burial and a sea burial. What' next? Cremation?
  • This poem’s kind of a bummer right now, but there’s good news coming, we promise.