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About this poet

William Cullen Bryant was born near Cummington, Massachusetts, on November 3, 1794. He was the second son of doctor and state legislator Peter Bryant and his wife Sarah Snell, whose ancestors were passengers on the Mayflower.

At thirteen, Bryant wrote “The Embargo,” a satirical poem calling for the resignation of President Thomas Jefferson. The poem was eventually published in a pamphlet in 1808. At sixteen, Bryant enrolled as a sophomore at WIlliams College with the intention of transferring to Yale. During his time at Williams, Bryant wrote “Thanatopsis,” which was later published in The North American Review for September, 1817.

When Bryant was unable to attend Yale, he studied law under private tuition. He was admitted to the bar at the age of twenty-one and spent nearly ten years practicing in Massachusetts. During this time, he married Frances Fairchild. They were together for nearly fifty years.

In 1821, when asked to speak at Harvard’s commencement, Bryant wrote the beginnings of what would eventually become his first published book of verse. Poems is believed to have been published first in 1821, and was later re-published with additions in two volumes by D. Appleton and Company in 1862.

In 1829, Bryant and his wife moved to New York City, where he was an editor of the New York Review. Later that year he became editor in chief of the New York Evening Post, a position he held until his death. Bryant used the newspaper as a platform to call for the abolition of slavery, and was also an advocate for Abraham Lincoln, delivering the speech that would eventually secure his nomination and eventual presidency.

Bryant is considered an American nature poet and journalist, with ties to the Hudson River School of art. He wrote poems, essays, and articles that championed the rights of workers and immigrants, and he was frequently published by the North American Review. He is the author of several books, including The White-Footed Deer and Other Poems (I. S. Platt, 1844), and The Fountain and Other Poems (Wiley and Putnam, 1842). He died on June 12, 1878, in New York City.

Bryant’s influence helped establish important New York civic institutions such as Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York Medical College. In 1884, New York City's Reservoir Square was renamed Bryant Park in his honor. Bryant was also the nephew of Charity Bryant, whose marriage to Sylvia Drake is thought to be one of the earliest same-sex unions in American history.



Selected Bibliography

The Fountain and Other Poems (Wiley and Putnam, 1842)
The White-Footed Deer and Other Poems (I. S. Platt, 1844)
Poems (D. Appleton, 1862)

Thanatopsis

   To him who in the love of Nature holds 
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks 
A various language; for his gayer hours 
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile 
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides 
Into his darker musings, with a mild 
And healing sympathy, that steals away 
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts 
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight 
Over thy spirit, and sad images 
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall, 
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house, 
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;— 
Go forth, under the open sky, and list 
To Nature's teachings, while from all around— 
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air,— 
Comes a still voice—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 the embrace of ocean, shall exist 
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim 
Thy growth, to be resolved 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 the 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-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales 
Stretching in pensive quietness between; 
The venerable woods—rivers that move 
In majesty, and the complaining brooks 
That make the meadows green; and poured round all, 
Old ocean's grey and melancholy waste,— 
Are but the solemn decorations all 
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun, 
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven, 
Are shining 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 Barcan wilderness, 
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods 
Where rolls the Oregan, and 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 withdraw 
In silence from the living, and no friend 
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe 
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh 
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care 
Plod on, and each one as before will chase 
His favourite phantom; yet all these shall leave 
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come, 
And make their bed with thee. As the long train 
Of ages glides away, the sons of men, 
The youth in life's fresh spring, and he who goes 
In the full strength of years, matron, and maid, 
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man,—  
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side, 
By those, who in their turn shall follow them. 

   So live, that when thy summons comes to join 
The innumerable caravan, that 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.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

William Cullen Bryant

William Cullen Bryant, author of "Thanatopsis," was born in Cummington, Massachusetts on November 3, 1794. He is considered an American nature poet and journalist, who wrote poems, essays, and articles that championed the rights of workers and immigrants.

by this poet

poem
Come, let us plant the apple-tree.   
Cleave the tough greensward with the spade;   
Wide let its hollow bed be made;   
There gently lay the roots, and there   
Sift the dark mould with kindly care, 
  And press it o'er them tenderly,   
As, round the sleeping infant's feet,   
We softly fold the cradle sheet
poem
   Whither, 'midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
   Thy solitary way?

   Vainly the fowler's eye
Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong,
As, darkly painted on the crimson sky,
   Thy figure floats along.

   Seek'st thou
poem
Upon the mountain’s distant head,
   With trackless snows for ever white,
Where all is still, and cold, and dead,
   Late shines the day’s departing light.

But far below those icy rocks,
   The vales, in summer bloom arrayed,
Woods full of birds, and fields of flocks,
   Are dim with mist and dark with shade.

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