The North American Review (vol. 224)
<<
THANATOPSIS, OLD AND NEW
BY WILLIS FLETCHER JOHNSON
IT is a commonplace of American literary history that Thana-
topsis was written by William Cullen Bryant while he was yet in
his teens, and was first printed in THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
It is less known that the poem lay in manuscript for six years
before it was published, and that it was then in a form so different
from that now familiar as to be scarcely recognizable. These and
other facts concerning this famous composition come to mind at
this one hundred and tenth anniversary of its first publication,
and seem worthy of collation among the curiosities of literature.
The first draft of the poem was written by Bryant at some time
between May and November, 1811, before he was seventeen years
old, and was published in THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW, together
with several others from his pen, in September, 1817. The purpose
of comparison between that original version and its later form will
be served by reproducing it, verbatim, et literatim, et punctatim, from
the files of this magazine. Here it is:
THANATOPSIS
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.
>>