Death is a Major Theme
The Romantic period of literature occurs between the years of 1800 to 1860 throughout the United States. The Romantic period is characterized by many forms of inspiration, intuition, innocence, imagination, and inner experience. Romanticism appears in many works of literature like novels and short stories, but was also prevalent in many works of the Fireside Poets. The Fireside Poets are poets who write for the “common man” and are significantly original in their work.
Besides, the Fireside Poets poetry being inspirational and innocent, the five poets focus on the idea of death and what it means to them. Poetry such as, “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant, ” Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and “The First Snowfall” by James Russell Lowell all hold different perspectives on the theme of death which is portrayed deeply in many of their writings.”Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant, “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and “The First Snowfall” by James Russell Lowell all analyze how death can be of many perspectives all with different meanings. Bryant handles life with death in his poem, “Thanatopsis”, by being very direct and sensitive towards the subject of death. Bryant portrays his directness when he asserts, “All that breathe / Will share thy destiny” (Bryant 60-61).
Bryant is saying that everyone dies and that is something we all have in common with life. “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes has a more connotative patriotic death to it and exemplifies how patriotism can be a part of death. Holmes exemplifies death with a beloved ship carrying many warriors of war when he states:”Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood,Where knelt the vanquished foe,When winds were hurrying o’er the flood,And waves were white below,No more shall feel the victor’s tread,Or know the conquered knee—The harpies of the shore shall pluckThe eagle of the sea” (Holmes 9-16).Holmes is stating that because “she”, the ship, held so many warriors, she too is a warrior in death. In “The First Snowfall” by James Russell Lowell, Death is seen as a sign of weakness that must not be shown. Lowell portrays how death must not be able to get the best of anyone when he states, “Flake by flake, healing and hiding / The scar of our deep-plunged woe” (Lowell 31-31).
Lowell is trying to make the point that the “scar” is the grave that deeply burdens his heart. With the emotions that draw up from these poems, we realize how much healthier it is to accept death and the emotions that are drawn with it.”Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant, “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and “The First Snowfall” by James Russell Lowell all cover nature and how it correlates with death. In “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant, Bryant expresses how nature is a healer. Bryant states that nature tells us that it will heal us in death when he states, “Old Ocean’s grey and melancholy waste, — / Are but the solemn decorations all / Of the great tomb of man” (Bryant 43-45). The quote by Bryant clearly states that nature alone is the healer of our souls.
“Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes also takes into the perspective of death with nature and how it is to be given respect. Holmes states that the flag must gain much respect with nature when he says, “Her thunders shook mighty deep, / And there should be her grave” (Holmes 23-24). The quote by Holmes is expressing that because the mighty ship lived in the ocean with nature that out of respect, that is where its life should end. “The First Snowfall” by James Russell Lowell exemplifies how nature can make everything less painful and shadow the hurt. Lowell states in his poem that nature is just a part of life when he states, “Darling, the merciful Father/ Alone can make it fall!” (Lowell 34-35). Lowell is trying to get his point across to his daughter that nature alone is capable of anything and everything, specifically relief.
Poets during the Romantic Era introduced nature with death as a sign of healing and comfort.”Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant, “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and “The First Snowfall” by James Russell Lowell all connect the reality of death overall with the idea of beauty. Bryant expresses his realization of finding beauty in death throughout “Thanatopsis”. Bryant sees beauty as a person and not just as a figurative element as he states, “To him who in the love of Nature holds / Communion with her visible forms, / she speaks A various language” (Bryant 1-3). Bryant sees the beauty that no one else can see in “her”. In “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, the beauty in this poem is compared to that of an old naval ship that once roamed the seas.
Holmes sees the flag on the ship’s beauty as magnificent and eye-catching as he states, “And many an eye has danced to see/ That banner in the sky;” (Holmes 3-4). Holmes sees the flag as so beautifully captivating that everyone takes pride in seeing it. Lastly, in “The First Snowfall” by James Russell Lowell, beauty is captured as a sign of hope and serenity. Lowell captivates his readers in expressing the beauty of remembrance in his daughter’s death when he states, “Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her; / And she, kissing back, could not know/ That my kiss was given to her sister, Folded close under deepening snow” (Lowell 37-40). The snow for Lowell is a sign of peace and is the “band-aid”, so to speak, of the scars on his heart.
Throughout these beautiful poems by the Fireside Poets we realize that death is a natural part of life and there is so much beauty within it.In conclusion, it is quite evident that death is a major theme in “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant, “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and “The First Snowfall” by James Russell Lowell. It is important to realize that death is a natural part of life and should be well-respected and taken seriously. It is also important to realize how precious life really is and how it could be taken away at any given moment. With that said live everyday as if it was your last and never forget to love.