The poem I have chosen to deal with in this short piece of work is "Thanatopsis", or "meditation on death", by William Cullen Bryant. I liked it since the first time I read it since it was surprising the way in which a meditation on death is mixed up with a meditation on nature, and how the barriers between both things seem to fuzzy in this poem. .
If this poem could be summarised (and I actually doubt it, since I have never liked to summarise texts, because I think summaries in literature are only a subjective reflection on what the person who is commenting the text wants to convey at a particular moment), its theme may be mainly pantheistic, that is, nature is a reflection of the feelings of men, at the very beginning of the poem. Afterwards, if we continue reading, nature as a whole is thus presented as the tomb of men, where neither social classes nor other earthy categories are distinguished. A second deep reading will make us realise the fact that there is no God in the poem, and that our final destiny is then that of reabsorption, where "pleasant dreams" wait for us.
Once can found several versions of this poem, that I will try to explain later. The version I have chosen is the one published in 1821 in the first volume of Bryant's verse. I will come back to the different versions of the poem later. Now I would like to concentrate upon the author and his context (as far as I am concerned, and although I do love Deconstructionism, I daresay this poem cannot be commented without taking into account the personal features of its author and his own circumstances, since the poem, beginning from its title, is in consonance with several facts that conditioned the life of Bryant).
William Cullen Bryant is often regarded as the first of our American classic poets. I say "classic" since there had been previous attempts to write poetry, but its quality was pretty lesser. Bryant was not an immigrant describing the New World landscape such as previous writers had been, but a man of letters who wrote a sort of poetry which could be compared without losing at all with the one that had been and was written on the other side of the Atlantic.