Wednesday, May 23, 2012


An old classmate and I were reminiscing the other night about our school days, and one of the memories revived was how often we were expected to memorize lines of poetry in those days. To my amusement, my friend stood and theatrically recited the last verse of William Cullen Bryant’s Thanatopsis by heart:

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.

Thanatopsis was formed from two Greek words – thanatos (θάνατος) death, and opsis (ὄψις), sight or view. It signifies a meditation on death. In modern times, the thanato- combining form is rarely used, but it was responsible for some interesting words over the years.

  • thanatognomonic: indicative or characteristic of death.
  • thanatography: an account of a person's death.
  • thanatomantic: of or pertaining to divination concerning death.
  • thanatophilia: an undue fascination with death.
  • thanatophobia: morbid fear of death.
  • thanatophoric: death-bringing
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