Does anyone remember having to memorize the final lines from Bryant's most famous poem, "Thanatopsis," when they were in school? I remember the poem quite well, including having to stand in front of the class while reciting the final stanza. It was around 12th grade I think, in an AP American Studies course.
"So live, that when thy summons comes to joinI recall it seemed rather appropriate at the time because my class at school had suffered the loss of a classmate killed in a car crash not long before we tackled Bryant and some of his Romantic-era American contemporaries. I think for most of us it was our first encounter with death beyond the sphere of family and the elderly. Here was one of our own - gone at 18 - having been thrown out the window of his car during a head-on collision. No seat belt, of course. It was definitely a wake-up call for our senior class, and set the tone for the rest of the year. Now twenty-five years later it's obvious that the event made a lasting impression.
The innumerable caravan which 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."