Friday, October 26, 2007

"Thanatopsis"

I walked by Bryant Park yesterday afternoon and thought of that much-honored New Yorker, William Cullen Bryant, for whom the park is named. During the winter Bryant Park is often used for public ice skating and is a popular destination for families during the holiday season. Conversely, it's rather sad to think that a space named for this great man of letters could also be used for an event as vacuous as Fashion Week twice a year. Poor Bryant probably rolls in his grave each time a waif-like model trips down the runway in some couture nightmare.

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 join
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."
I 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.

2 comments:

One Wink at a Time said...

Strange that you should post this today. I attended the funeral of a family friend earlier this week and have been a bit consumed with the subject of death. The man was a wonderful person, ravaged by the effects of battling cancer for seven years. What has been foremost in my thoughts is his amazing fighting spirit before he succumbed.
I appreciated the poem, thanks.

Falconmyst said...

Our family is enduring the hardship of a loved one being memory swiped after reviving from a diabetic coma; an extremely intellegent man's mind crushed to a low level...

Loved your post, hits home on many levels.

Used your picture in a post on my blog.