During the Romantic Period, poetry, novels, and short stories were often written and read throughout this literary time period by Fireside Poets. Three poems that were written during this time were “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant, “A Psalm or Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” also written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Poems written during this time often had common themes that corresponded with each other in some type of fashion or form. In the three themes of these three poems they all shared characteristics in the way they describe death. In “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant, “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow the theme of death is shown in different perspectives.In the poem “Thanatopsis” Bryant believes that death is expressed through nature and natural beings.
Nature has a variety of impacts on the beliefs of death. The persona mentions in his poem “The oak / shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould” (Bryant 29-30). The true meaning of this quote is that dead bodies are being looked upon as being nourishment for trees, trees need soil so they will make bodies out of it. When growing up and becoming wiser death will not be as bad as it seems “Yet not thine eternal resting-place / Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish / Couch more magnificent” (Bryant 31-33). In reality that truly means that death can be looked at as a horrible and scary thing but people do not encounter death all by themselves, death can and may be as relaxing and comfy as a “couch”.
Death can also sometimes be a peaceful thing “In their last sleep–the dead reign there alone” (Bryant 58) was an example of a calm thing. The meaning that the persona is trying to get across is in a person’s last breath on earth the dead waits for their arrival but in a comforting way not a scary way. Death is being used as a factor of nature in the theme of this poem.In the poem “A Psalm of Life” Longfellow believes that death should be remembered in order to better oneself as a person. Longfellow mentioned to live for today “Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant / Let the dead Past bury its dead” (Longfellow 21-22). Basically the persona is trying to get the point across to live in the present because the past is the past and the future is never guaranteed.
Longfellow wants people to live life and live it right “Life is real! Life is earnest” (Longfellow 5). Life is supposed to be enjoyed and lived to the fullest with many happy experiences. Longfellow is a strong advocate of the concept that everyone should be a hero in life and to be the best they can be “In the bivouac of Life / Be not life dumb, driven cattle! / be a hero in the strife” (Longfellow 18-20). He is expressing the importance that in the temporary camp of life do not be a follower be a leader. Life should be lived to the greatest way possible so it will have been used and taken advantage of in a great way in the end when they die.In the poem “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” Longfellow believes people come and go all of the time and it is an ongoing cycle.
People always leave by dying and come back to life by being born. The main expression of his belief is “And the tide rises, the tide falls” (Longfellow 5). The meaning of this quote is that people are born, and people also die. Babies are always being born and they are known as being very precious and fragile with no dangerous characteristics. “The little waves, with their soft, white hands / Efface the footprints in the sands” (Longfellow 8-9).
The personification suggests that the hands are erasing the events and memories that were left behind from life. Longfellow is also a great believer of an afterlife in Heaven. The persona often compares life “Returns the traveler to the shore / And the tide rises, the tide falls” (Longfellow 14-15) to the sea. The meaning is that a person who dies is being returned back to God in Heaven after they die, but people are always dying and being born. Life is and will always be a constant cycle and there is no way around it.After all, the common theme of all three poems is based on the perspectives death and that it is not that bad and life always goes on.
The poems often have characteristics that are corresponded with each other. Afterlife is often expressed and appreciated. Life is very precious and should be used wisely. In “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant, “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow the overall theme is death may be very mournful and depressing but it’s better to enjoy and remember the times of life well spent.