Throughout the history of literature, there have been numerous literary works written on just about any
topic that the mind can imagine, but the topic that seems to be written about by every group of writers is
death. Death, is the one thing that is a constant in everyone’s life, there is no avoiding it, but there are
different ways to look at it. Two different ways to look at it are shown by two of the greatest American
writers, Emily Dickinson and William Cullen Bryant. Dickinson wrote about her perception of death in her
poem “Because I could not stop for Death”; whereas, Bryant shared his view of death with us through his
best known poem “Thanatopsis.” Throughout these poems, the authors use different literary techniques, to
express different themes, on the same topic.
One of the main differences between the two poems is the style in which they are written.
“Thanatopsis” is written in third person; whereas, “Because I could not stop for Death” is written in first
person. Using first person in a poem about death makes the mood of the poem more depressing. Bryant’s
poem seems to be a more soothing approach to death as he describes death as the point when one “lies
down to pleasant dreams” (l. 81). Another difference in the poems is the way death is described to the
reader. Bryant uses much more detail than does Dickinson who uses mainly symbolism in her poem.
Bryant states that being buried is “to mix forever with the elements;/ to be a brother to the insensible rock”
(l. 36-37). Because the two writers vary in techniques, the theme of each poem is different from the other.
The point that each writer is making about death directly ties in with the way that each poem was
written. Dickinson, who used first person, looks at death as something that is bound to happen to her, and
that creates a somber mood about ones death. She also looks at death at something that is very lonely as
she stated “The Carriage held just but Ourselves-/ and Immortality.” (l. 3-4). Bryant feels that one dies
“With patriarchs of the infant world -- with kings,/ The powerful of the earth-- the wise, the good,” (l. 34-
35). He makes death, although it will never seem desirable, a very comfortable thing that after which you
get to spend your afterlife on a magnificent couch with all the elite of the world. Bryant makes death equal
to the act of taking a nap on the couch, which to man would be pleasant. Dickinson, however, makes death
a journey in which she writes “We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain-/We passed the Setting Sun-/Or
rather-He passed Us-” (l. 11-13). Th!
is image makes it sound as though life is passing us by when we die, and one has nothing to look forward to
after they die. Though they wrote of the same topic, Bryant and Dickinson had very different views on the
subject. Dickinson wrote her poem as what she thought her own personal death would be like; whereas,
Bryant wrote his poem in hope that people would not think of death as something that is necessarily a bad
thing.
The two poems, although they are very different, also have more similarities than just the topic of
each. One of the stylistic techniques that the two writers exhibited in these poems is the usage of blank
verse. This technique, though not common among many writers, is very distinct in reading these poems, as
they do not flow the way a poem with say iambic pentameter would. These were poems that were written
solely to get across the writer’s point to the reader. Both writers also show that they know that facing one’s
own death in inevitable, and that could be their reason behind choosing this topic. It is the only topic, other
than birth, that is a constant throughout everyone’s life, no matter where one lives, how old one is, or the
color of one’s skin it is a safe bet that someday they will experience death.
The fact that everyone experiences death inspired Emily Dickinson and William Cullen Bryant to
write the poems “Because I could not stop for Death” and “Thanatopsis” respectively.