Thus, individualism is the common link in the poems of the four poets Bryant, Whitman, Poe and Dickenson. Whereas the poems of the first three were filled with optimism and love for nature, Poe's were filled with conflicts, darkness, loneliness, and negative contexts (Parkes 274).
This essay shall analyze the concept of death and afterlife as depicted in the poems of the American romantic poets. It shall argue that the poets viewed death or 'ceasing to exist here' as a transit-phase, an entry into something beyond, which was eternal and deathless by nature. The essay shall take into account the poems of four American romantic poets, William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), Edgar Allen Poe (1809-49), Walt Whitman (1819-1892), and Emily Dickinson (1830-86). Quoting appropriate lines from their poems, the essay shall also show that, Poe's verses hold the same ideas as the others, although his negative portrayal of death is in contrast to the positive images of death as depicted by others.
The optimism of Bryant, Whitman, and Dickenson is all too evident their visualization of death too. Though death as a possibility has been considered by Bryant in many of his poems, "Thanatopsis" is probably his most famous poem on death. The title can be roughly understood as 'meditation on death,' and is derived from the Greek word 'Thanatos' - death. Death according to Bryant, is nature's way of letting him know that his present form of existence is over, and is to undergo change, "Thine individual being, shalt thou go / To mix forever with the elements, / To be a brother to the insensible rock" (Bryant lines 26-8). The body disintegrates in death, only to regain its original elemental form from which it was made. Moreover, in death, he shall join the illustrious company of those who were great and dead, "with kings, / The powerful of the earth-the wise, the good" (Bryant lines 35-6). And those who outlive him, shall also join him soon because everyone has to die. Taking a pragmatic view of death, Bryant, drives the message that it was better to live life to the full "So live.." (Bryant line 74). Rather than grieve over death "Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night" it was better to be prepared to go gracefully, when the call comes, "Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch / About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams." (Bryant lines 81-2). Another of Bryant's poem, "Hymn To Death" too lauds death as "Deliverer!" as one who has been ordained by God to humble the powerful, "God hath anointed thee to free the oppressed / And crush the oppressor" (lines 34-5). These lines inherently denote that death delivers them from the state of being limited by mortality, into a state of unlimited eternity or deathlessness.
Similar to Bryant's positive and pragmatic view of death, is Walt Whitman's conception of death. Whitman's "Song of Myself" is probably the most revealing of all his poems regarding his thoughts on life, death, nature, good and evil. In this poem he explicates that all things, however big or small, good or bad, all are of equal