In all of this collection of poetry, no single poem looms larger than William Cullen Bryant's Thanatopsis, of which there are apparently several versions, and several introductions. It is apparently the matter of some debate as to whether or not the author wrote the four quatrain intro attached to this version.


Not that from life, and all its woes
The hand of death shall set me free;
Not that this head, shall then repose
In the low vale most peacefully.

Ah, when I touch time's farthest brink,
A kinder solace must attend;
It chills my very soul, to think
Of that dread hour when life must end.

In vain the flatt'ring verse may breathe,
Of ease from pain, and rest from strife,
There is a sacred dread of death
Inwoven with the strings of life.

This bitter cup at first was given
When angry justice frown'd severe,
And 'tis th' eternal doom of heaven
That man must view the grave with fear.

--- Yet a few days, and thee,
The all-beholding sun, shall see no more,
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
Nor in th' embrace of ocean shall exist
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolv'd to earth again;
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix forever with the elements,
To be a brother to th' insensible rock
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.
Yet not to thy eternal resting place
Shalt thou retire alone --- nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world --- with kings
The powerful of the earth --- the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre. --- The hills,
Rock-ribb'd and ancient as the sun, --- the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods --- the floods that move
In majesty, --- and the complaining brooks,
That wind among the meads, and make them green,
Are but the solemn decorations all,
Of the great tomb of man. --- The golden sun,
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven
Are glowing on the sad abodes of death,
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom. --- Take the wings
Of morning --- and the Borean desert pierce ---
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
That veil Oregan, where he hears no sound
Save his own dashings --- yet --- the dead are there,
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep --- the dead reign there alone. ---
So shalt thou rest --- and what if thou shalt fall
Unnoticed by the living --- and no friend
Take note of thy departure? Thousands more
Will share thy destiny. --- The tittering world
Dance to the grave. The busy brood of care
Plod on, and each one chases as before
His favourite phantom. --- Yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee ! ---

Snippets in a Letter

Oliver Goldsmith wrote this snippet of a heroic introduction in a letter to his brother, Henry. This was included in a biography of him by Washington Irving, and I came across it recently while labeling random pages of poetry.

He introduces the short work, which was never published (according to Irving's footnote on the next page) as follows:

You remember I intended to introduce the hero of the poem as lying in a paltry ale house. You may take the following specimen of the manner, which I flatter myself is quite original. The room in which he lies may be described somewhat in this way:

Untitled: "the following specimen"

The window, patched with paper, lent a ray
That feebly show'd the state in which he lay;
The sanded floor that grits beneath the tread,
The humid wall with paltry pictures spread;
The game of goose was there exposed to view,
And the twelve rules the royal martyr drew;
The Seasons, framed with listing, found a place,
And Prussia's monarch show'd his lamp-black face.
The morn was cold: he views with keen desire
A rusty grate unconscious of a fire;
An unpaid reckoning on the frieze was scored,
And five crack'd tea-cups dress'd the chimney-board.