NOVEMBER 3: William Cullen Bryant born

Posted this last year. WCB’s career reminds me a little of Paul McCartney’s, with some youthful brilliance and a lot of good-not-great achievements the rest of the way.


ON THIS DATE in 1794, poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant was born in Cummington, Massachusetts

At seventeen, Bryant wrote a draft of “Thanatopsis,” a meditation on death that his father found in a pile of papers six years later. The elder Bryant sent the poem, 49 lines long in its original form, to the North American Review, which published it in September of 1817.

The poet reworked and expanded “Thanatopsis” in 1821, and the critical response was effusive. Edgar Allan Poe praised the work’s “nearly absolute freedom from defect” and Bryant biographer John Bigelow would call it “not only the finest poem which had yet been produced on this continent, but one of the most remarkable poems ever produced at such an early age.”

Although he lived to eighty-three, Bryant never again wrote a poem as fine as “Thanatopsis.” “We should wonder, not how an American at the age…

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