Dickinson and William Cullen Bryant, ” Contemplation of Death”
Dickinson and William Cullen Bryant, ” Contemplation of Death”
Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the world paid witness to an intellectual and philosophical revolution that forever changed the perception of life itself. The Great Awakening caused people to become more in tune with their spiritual self, and the Great Enlightenment caused people to question, to think, and to pursue the unknown. This new wave of thinking, helped writers of the Romantic and Transcendent era, such as William Cullen Bryant, and Emily Dickinson, express their feelings of life.
Thanatopsis”, by William Cullen Bryant, and “Because I could Not Stop for Death”, by Emily Dickinson, both exemplify the indisputable facts, that death is an inevitable, natural part of life, and there is no reason to be afraid of death. Even though the two poems both share the same underlying themes, they are presented in different ways. William Cullen Bryant and Emily Dickinson both perpetuated their belief that death is inevitable, but in very different ways. In “Thanatopsis”, by William Cullen Bryant, he expresses that death inevitable, by explaining that eventually, everyone dies, and that it is essentially part of a “life cycle”.
Death is inevitable no matter whom you are, and everyone will die. He accentuates this idea when he says, “Thou shalt lie down with patriarchs of the infant world – with kings, the powerful of the earth, the wise the good… ” (Lines 33- 35). Cullen uses this line to say that no matter who you are, everyone has the same fate. We all end up the same, as he says in lines 25-28, “Thine individual being, shalt though go, to mix forever with the elements, to be a brother of the insensible rock”.
Dickinson, however, presents her belief that death is natural in a completely different way. Dickinson believed that death was a part of the cycle of death. In lines 9-12, Dickinson stated, “We passed the School, where Children strove, at Recess- in the Ring – We passed the Fields of Grazing Grain – We passed the setting sun”. These lines are metaphors for the stages of life, from childhood to maturity to old age and then death. Dickinson presented those metaphors, to say that her “carriage ride with death”, was just another stage.
We all are once young, we all will grow, and we will all die. Another difference between the two authors expressing that life is inevitable is that Bryant simply believes “shalt though go mix forever with the elements”, while Dickinson believes, “Were toward eternity”. Bryant believes that death is final, and Dickinson is perhaps more religious, and believes that there is still life after death. Even though William Cullen Bryant and Dickinson got their point across in different ways, they both were able to express their belief that death is certain.
Even though Bryant and Dickinson have very different writing styles, they both further accentuate their belief that death is inevitable by writing about how life is short. Bryant writes about how life is short in lines 17-20 when he says, “Yet a few days, and thee all beholding sun shall see now more”. This means that in just a short amount of time, you will no longer be here, your life will end, and your “sun” will burn out, ceasing to exist. There is no way around it. Dickinson is able to express this idea, in a completely different way.
From lines 14- 16 Dickinson said, “ The Dews drew quivering and chill ,For only Gossamer, my Gown , My Tippet , only Tule “. When Dickinson says this, she is using her clothing to have an even deeper meaning; A Gossamer is a thin, light cloth, and “my tippet, my tule”, means that “my shawl was only a fine net cloth”. She dressed lightly, even though it was cold out, ( “ the dews drew quivering and chill” ) because it would not take death long to take her on the carriage ride, watching her life pass her by.
Life is short, and death is inevitable. The carriage ride throughout her life will come to an end, which is why she did not dress properly. Although Bryant and Dickinson have very different writing styles, they are both able to express how they believe that death is inevitable by writing about how life is short. Usually, when an author writes about death, the writing is dark, and brooding. However, “Thanatopsis”, and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”, both offer solace that death is nothing to fear.
William Cullen Bryant says we are to live so that when it is time for us to die; we should not fight it, but welcome it. We should not be afraid like a slave at night in a dungeon but instead we should be sustained an soothed with an unfaltering trust approaching our grave like one who wraps the covers from his bed around him and lies down to pleasant dreams, as Bryant says from lines 73 – 81, “So live, that when thy summons comes to join , The innumerable caravan, which moves , To that mysterious realm, where each shall take , His chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night, Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed, By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave , Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
“ Bryant is simply saying that we should welcome death, and look forward to it, for it is nothing to fear. Dickinson is able to offer solace by personifying death from lines 1-8, “ Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me, the carriage held but just ourselves, and immortality, we slowly drove, he knew no haste, and I had put away, my labor and my leisure too , for his civility. Dickinson personifies death as a kind, civil man. He waited for her, did not rush her, and he respected her. Dickinson personifies death as a gentleman; to express that death should not be feared, because there is no reason to be afraid. Although many writings about death are very dark, and pessimistic, “Thanatopsis” and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”, are both very comforting, but in very different ways.
The new wave of thinking during the 19th centuries, helped Romantic and Transcendent era authors such as William Cullen Bryant, and Emily Dickinson express their thoughts of death, in a way that it had not previously been expressed. “Thanatopsis” and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” both exemplify the same indisputable facts, that death is an inevitable, natural part of life, and there is no reason to be afraid of death. Even though the two poems both share the same underlying themes, they are presented in different ways.
Bryant accentuates his belief that death is inevitable saying that eventually, we all die, no matter whether royalty, or a peasant. Dickinson is able to do this by giving a metaphor to various stages of life, which is to say, that death is just another stage. Death is part of the cycle. Bryant also pointed out that life is short, by giving an analogy to not seeing the sun any more. Dickinson did this by stating that she was underdressed for her ride passing through her life, because it was short, and she knew she would soon die, and go onwards towards eternity.
Both Bryant and Dickinson offer solace about death. Bryant offers solace by saying that there is no need to worry, but that we should embrace it. Dickinson offers solace by personifying death, calling him civil, and kind, to accentuate her belief that there is nothing to fear. William Cullen Bryant and Emily Dickinson were two of the greatest writers of their time, and both wrote about the same underlying themes, but expressed them in completely different ways.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 26 September 2016
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