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Thanatopsis': The Role of The Unity of Nature

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In the speaker’s vision of death, nature plays a central role. Instead of dealing with abstract entities like God, angels, souls, or Heaven, the speaker focuses on the physical objects that make up the mortal world — think: dirt, rivers, trees. In doing so, the speaker suggests that human beings aren’t all that different from these physical things — that each dead person is “brother to the insensible rock / And to the sluggish clod.” Though this comparison might seem glib or frightening at first, the poem ultimately suggests that death reveals the essential unity of nature — in which humans, rocks, and rivers are all connected.

The poem imagines the process of death and decomposition as a loss of humanity and individuality. The dead are no longer people in the normal sense of the word; dying entails the loss of ‘each human trace,’ as well as ‘surrendering up / Thine individual being To mix for ever with the elements.’ Instead, the dead become a part of nature, a part of the “elements” that allow other things to grow.

And although people cherish having a mind, the dead, having mixed ‘with the elements,’ have no more use for minds. Instead, the dead are more like “the insensible rock” and “sluggish clod,” things that don’t have brains or cultures in any human sense. All in all, this transformation suggests that people aren’t separate from nature. In fact, as the word “brother” implies, all natural things are connected, as if nature were a giant family.

In keeping with this idea, as the speaker begins to consider all the people who have already died, the natural world becomes like an ornate tomb. Because all the dead ultimately return to the ground, the speaker views the earth itself as ‘one mighty sepulchre’ — that is, as a giant crypt. Seen in this light, the beautiful elements of nature, like rivers and meadows, ‘Are but the solemn decorations all / For the great tomb of man.’ Rather than seeing death as an unfortunate side effect of nature, here the speaker metaphorically suggests that the whole point of the natural world is to house people after they die. Again, this idea emphasizes the essential unity of nature, suggesting that death is a crucial ingredient in the cosmic order. All living things come from the earth, and thus must return to it when they die.

Ultimately, the speaker ties together the poem’s interest in mortality and the unity of nature, arguing that people must find peace in death. Because death is inevitable, it is better to face it with dignity and serenity rather than despair. Both by bringing the natural world to life and by listing all the sorts of people who have already faced death, the speaker envisions death as part of the universe’s harmonious order. People should have an “unfaltering trust” in death, viewing it as a destiny, rather than a curse.

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At the beginning of the poem, the speaker describes how nature both reflects human feelings and can act as a source of wisdom. More specifically, the speaker describes a “love of Nature” that leads to “communion.” In other words, people who deeply appreciate nature enter into a sacred relationship with it. For such people, nature “speaks / A various language.” This language varies with the observer’s mood, so that the natural landscape often seems to mirror how people are feeling.

Additionally, nature doesn’t just capture people’s feelings; it also helps people find peace and understanding. The speaker says that if one is ever feeling despair (such as the fear of death), one should “Go forth, under the open sky, and list / To Nature’s teachings.” Looking up at the night sky can bring a sense of calm, as if nature is providing wisdom for how to face death with serenity.

Just as nature can seem like a companion to the lonely, the dead are also companions. The speaker treats the realm of the dead as a glorious community where everyone is equal. The realm of the dead contains both “the powerful of the earth” and “the speechless babe.” Everyone ends up here. As the speaker emphasizes, when someone dies, they are clearly do not “retire alone.” Since being around other people is so important for humans, this sense of community may help alleviate the anxiety around death.

Furthermore, the speaker emphasizes all the impressive people that a dead person shall be surrounded by: “the wise, the good / Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past.” It’s as if death is a giant hall of fame. For this reason, one could not “wish / Couch more magnificent.” In other words, the realm of the dead is basically the most spectacular place you could end up. Normal people are elevated to the same stature as kings, in a manner that makes death more magnificent, not less.

At the end of the poem, the speaker urges both dignity and trust in nature. One shouldn’t approach death with fear, but instead as a source of serenity. The speaker urges the reader to “go not like the quarry-slave, at night, / Scourged to his dungeon,” when it is time to die. In other words, the dying shouldn’t perceive death as a terrible injustice or punishment. Instead, the dying should be “sustained and soothed / By an unfaltering trust.” Just as nature can sooth people’s despair, the speaker here suggests that it’s important to trust in death as a natural phenomenon. It’s not a punishment, but rather a harmonious — even good — part of life.

Death, according to speaker, should be thought of as “wrapping the drapery of [one’s] couch” around oneself, before drifting off to “pleasant dreams.” That is, death is a like a warm blanket, a final and soothing state of rest after all the turbulence of life. Thus, for those who can see the harmony of nature, there is nothing to fear in death.

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Thanatopsis’: The Role of The Unity of Nature. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 9, 2023, from
“Thanatopsis’: The Role of The Unity of Nature.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022,
Thanatopsis’: The Role of The Unity of Nature. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 9 Jun. 2023].
Thanatopsis’: The Role of The Unity of Nature [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 15 [cited 2023 Jun 9]. Available from:
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