The Analysis of Several Socially Conscious Poems: Thanatopsis and Self-Reliance

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“Thanatopsis” is a poem written by William Cullen Bryant that speaks of the love of nature, which comforts us in life and in death. We come from dust; we dance on this earth for a minute like snowflakes falling from the sky to be absorbed and become part of the earth. We will be dead longer than we were alive. So, enjoy your time on earth and be comforted that the arms of nature will be waiting to receive you, as they are to receive all of civilization to all become one. “To a waterfowl” is also written by William Cullen that represents the early stages of American romanticism through the celebration of nature and god’s presence within nature. He does this by mimicking the subject “the waterfowl” by writing this poem in an iambic trimeter and iambic pentameter that allows the reader to visualize this character. In addition, to his other poem the “Sonnet- to an American painter departing for Europe” that reveals within the sheer expansive and differentiation in the landscape of America and nobility and solemn dignity not to be found in natural world of Europe describe by its poets. All these poems portray the theme of nature and that nature is a place where order and harmony exist.


“Self-reliance”, is written by Ralph Waldo Emerson and argues that polite society has an adverse effect on one’s personal growth. Self-sufficiency, he writes, gives one the freedom to discover one’s true self and attain true independence. Throughout the entire story, Emerson argues his readers to follow their individual will, instead of conforming to social expectations. He also emphasizes the effects on self-reliance, altering religious practices, encouraging Americans to stay at home and develop their own culture and focus on yourself rather than societal progress. This reminds me of Arthur Miller and the “tragedy and the common man” which serve as a model of nonconformity that is a radical twist of Christ’s elevation of it as an emblem of total dependence of god.

Resistance to Civil Government

”Resistance to civil government”, is written by Henry David Thoreau and begins his essay by giving reasons why government cannot be trusted. In addition, Thoreau also admits that the American government provides avenues for change in dissenters, but they are however, often too slow and unreliable. Voting for instance, is not as effective as Americans like to think: it is only “a sort of gaming, like chequers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it”. “Voting for the right” (Thoreau, pg. 956), he points out “is doing nothing for it” (Thoreau, pg. 957). In conclusion, Thoreau acknowledges the need for violence in extreme cases. He points the hypocrisy of praising the American Revolution, a violent rebellion, while refusing to acknowledge violence to remedy contemporary injustices such as slavery. Like the author says, “all men recognize the right of revolution” (Thoreau, pg. 955), thus, you can see that Thoreau is even more explicit about using violence to resist the extreme injustice.

My Kinsman, Major Molineux

“My Kinsman, Major Molineux”, is written by Nathaniel Hawthorne that sets the story in New England before the American Revolution and tells a story of a boy name Young Robin Molineux who seeks out his kinsman, a major in the British army, with the hope of gaining access to his power. He finds however that his kinsman is scorned and he is advised to make his own way in the world. Which helps portray the theme of the loss of innocence, due to the fact that he got a glimpse of the world of what it is like to be a man. Before, Robin is full of a youthful energy, a childlike image of the world and an aristocrat attitude of the word. And in the end Robin becomes mature, and a realist of the world, and becomes a self-made person and becomes independent and does not rely on the help of family members.

Young Goodman Brown

“Young Goodman Brown” is a story published in 1835 by American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne that took place in the 17th century in Puritan New England, and addresses the Calvinist/ Puritan belief that all humanity exists in a state of depravity, but that God has destined some unconditional election through unmerited grace. Hawthorne frequently focuses on the tensions with puritan culture, yet steeps his stories in the puritan sense of sin. For example, Young Goodman Brown makes a deal with the devil in order to gain power and have this advantage in life in exchange for his soul. Which reminds me of the movie ghost rider, in which the devil appears to him in his most vulnerable stage and promises the protagonist his father’s health in exchange for his soul. However, every deal does have its perks, the protagonist character does gain his health back but just for a short period of time, leading the protagonist father to later die and thus leading the protagonist to be under the devil’s leash. Which in a symbolic fashion, of the story that follows Young Goodman Browns journey into self-scrutiny, which results in his loss of virtue and belief in humanity.

The Masque of the Red Death

“The masque of the red death” is a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe in which the story follows Prince Prospero’s attempt to avoid a dangerous plague known as the red death by hiding in the abbey. He, along with many other wealthy nobles, has a masquerade ball within seven rooms of the abbey, and each decorated with a different color. Each colored room had its own meaning of symbolism. For example, the first color that the author starts off with is blue, which represents birth, then followed by the color purple which suggests the beginning of growth. Then followed by the color green, which suggest the “spring” of life. Then followed by orange, which represents the summer of autumn of life. Then white, which suggests age. Then violet that represents darkness. And finally, black that represents death. In the midst of their revelry, a mysterious figure disguised as a Red Death victim enters and makes his way through each of the rooms. Prospero dies after confronting this stranger, whose “costume” proves to have nothing tangible inside it. In addition, the guests also die in turn. The author shows this when he says, “darkness and decay and the red death held illimitable dominion over all” (Poe, pg. 666). Showing how no one can run away from death. Just because you’re rich, that doesn’t mean your life is secure. Everyone has their time, whether its good or bad, and death will find you when your time has come in this world.

The Raven

“The Raven” is a narrative story written by Edgar Allan Poe and tells a story of a talking raven that mysteriously visits him in distraught of his lover, tracing the man’s slow fall into madness. The lover, often identified as being a student is lamenting the loss of his love, Lenore. “sitting in the bust of the Pallas” (Poe, Line 104), the raven seems to further distress the protagonist with its constant repetition of the word “nevermore”.

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Annabel Lee

“Annabel Lee” is a poem narrated by a young man who describes himself as a child, who them falls in love with a young woman named Annabel Lee. Annabel lee and the young man live in a kingdom by the sea where they are very happy and very in love. Their love for each other is so intense, in fact that the seraphim in heaven becomes jealous and murder Annabel Lee by sending a wind that chills her to her death. The narrator is devastated but does not give up on love. He indeed believes his soul is inseparable from Annabel lee that he dreams that every night he sleeps next to her in her tomb. Thus, maybe personifying his wife death as this “beautiful Annabel Lee”, (Poe, line 26,33,35, 37) he is constantly repeating all throughout the poem. Both “the Raven” and “Annabel Lee” both help portray Poe’s life after his beloved wife has died.

Uncle Toms Cabin: Or, Life Among the Lowly

“Uncle Toms Cabin” is written by Harriet Beecher Stowe and begins her story by describing a cold afternoon in the middle of the nineteenth century on a farm in Kentucky of two gentlemen negotiating slaves in order for the protagonist to save his land and property. Otherwise, it will all get taken away from him. However, the young character Mr. Haley tells Mr. Shelby that the only way he will negotiate with him is if Mr. Shelby sells him a little boy or a little girl. Thus, throughout his writing, Stowes combines a vivid characterization and description with realistic dialogue, when describing characters, for example, Stowe uses one outward appearance as a metaphor for personality. Consider this description to the slave trader Mr. Haley when the author says, “he was a short, thick- set man, with coarse, commonplace features, and that swaggering air of pretension which marks a low man who is trying to elbow his way upward in the world…..he was much over dressed, in a gaudy vest of many colors arranged with a flaunting tie”(Stowe, pg. 794), Haley’s physical appearance is a metaphor for his “new rich” status. This description alludes that this ostentation hides vulgarity beneath.

From My Bondage and My Freedom

From the Bondage and my freedom”, is a story told my Fredrick Douglass that describes Mr. Douglass life of becoming a free man and escaping slavery and begin his life as a free slave. Fredrick Douglass goes into deep detail and illustrates with great detail the dehumanization of being treated like a slave. The treatment that these owners give to them is inhumane. And allow the reader to see how they are being treated like animals instead of human beings. For example, the author shows this when he says, “that day, in the woods, I would never exchange my manhood for the brute hood of an ox” (Douglass, pg. 1230), showing how they are being treated unfairly and unkindly in society.

Bartleby, The Scrivener: A story of Wall Street

“Bartleby the scrivener” a story of wall street is a short story that begins with a successful lawyer in need of an assistance, and hires a new scrivener to join his small firm named Bartleby who was a quiet, initially efficient, antisocial little man. Bartley worked in the firm as a copyist, because he refused to help out with any other office task. Eventually, as time went by his refusal grew stronger and stronger and made an announcement that he will no longer be a copyist, that indeed he preferred to stay in the office and not do any work. The successful did not like that form of attitude and took his practice elsewhere. However, another practice moves into the building only to discover that Bartley is still living in the building. The new occupants complain and have the police arrest Bartleby. The story concludes with Bartleby in prison. And he eventually wastes away and starves to death, leaving only the narrator to mourn for him. Thus, all could portray back to Bartley previously working as a clerk in an obscure branch of the post office known as the letter office, sorting through undeliverable mail. We have to wonder what kind of effects these “dead” letters must have had on his life. Thus, importantly I believe this story help symbolize death and their no way of stopping it, so what’s the point of doing anything.

The Paradise of the Bachelors and The Tartarus of Maids

“The paradise of the Bachelors” describes the London bachelors, lawyers, scholars, and writers enjoying a sumptuous meal in a cozy apartment near the temple bar. And the narrator explains a tone of ironic exuberance, are the modern-day equivalent of the knights templar. “like the years before the flood, the bold knights templars are no more. Nevertheless, the name remains and the nominal society, and the ancient grounds and some of the ancient edifices” (pg. 1496), describing how nothing has changed. And everything is still the same. And in the “Tartarus of Maid” describes how in New England “maids” are young women working in a paper factory and have showed the narrator the horrifying ways humanity invents that has enslaved us through the great deal of imagery used throughout the story. For example, when the author describes the process of paper being made, and how it is a process described as not having an erotic love, but instead just resemble pregnancy and childbirth. Thus, in conclusion both stories helped portray the gender roles of a male during that time period, and the role of a woman during this time period as well. In my opinion, both of these stories can be related back to Moby Dick writing style and how he combines transcendentalism in a novel like way both short stories portray this idealistic social movement that developed in New England during this time period, and how divinity pervades all nature and humanity and its progressive views on feminism in their communal living.

From by The Roadside: When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

“From the Roadside” is a poem written by Walt Whitman in which the speaker of this poem is listening to the astronomer lecture. He sees proof and figures and columns before him, as well as charts and diagrams that he is supposed to analyze mathematically. At the end of the lecture, everyone else applauds the astronomers while the speaker sits in the lecture room feeling sick and tired. The speaker then wanders away looking up into the sky and finally recognizes the magic. And portray this theme that we should not conform to society. And how we should experience from what we learn instead of someone telling someone about it. The author portrays this when he says, “when the proof, the figures, were range in columns, were ranged in column before me” (Whitman, line 2), thus, describing how we can’t learn nature from another human being, we have to actually go outside into the world and experience it. And how the human civilization learns betters through hands on experience.

From Sea Drift: Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking

“From the sea drift” is also a poem written by Walt Whitman and describes the reminiscence in which the poet is at a crisis in his adult life and is looking back to an incident in his childhood that helped him become more aware of his vocation as a poet. Whitman portrays this through the use of his musical quality of the poem, with his incantatory rhythms and wavelike quality. for example, the author shows this when he describes the birds singing a song. You can compare it back to opera, because Whitman very much-loved opera, which is why one can see where his inspiration came from when writing this poem.

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

“Crossing the Brooklyn ferry” is a poem about a man taking the Brooklyn ferry home from Manhattan at the end of a working day. And begins to think about the people who will make the same crossing many years from then, contradicting Whitman’s idea that all humans are united in their common experience of life. The man feels connected to a pattern larger than himself, and how the past and the future resemble each other. In my opinion I do believe like many say that history does repeat itself. Whitman portrays this idea when he says, “I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence” (Whitman, line 20), conveying this idea that nobody is ever really gone. That they are indeed portrayed by a different character but that they’re still the same person. Reminding me of the term reincarnation and how you are reborn into a new soul in the world.

Emily Dickinson

The soul selects her own society is a poem written by Emily Dickinson and in this poem Dickinson portrays this idea that “the soul selects her own society” that people choose a few companions who matter to them and exclude everyone else from their inner consciousness, conjures up images of a solemn ceremony with the ritual closing of the door, the chariots, the emperor, and the ponderous values of the souls attention. Another poem of hers is “Because I could not stop for death” is a poem that describes the speakers in a ride in a carriage with death who kindly stops his carriage to pick her up. Together they drive past schools, houses, and fields on their long ride to eternity. (Dickinson, line 9-12) Which helps emphasize the speaker’s passage from life to death to an afterlife. In addition, the speaker rides in a carriage with immortality and personifies the vision of death. Another poem of hers, is “I heard a fly buzz” that talks about a dead speaker looking back at the moment of their death. And describes this serene acceptance of death. And also describes how the speaker’s senses are slowing failing as she heard this fly buzz when she died, and leading up to the moment that led to her death.(Dickinson, line 5-8) Lastly, Dickinson writes “the brain is wider than the sky” that talks about the relationship between the mind and the outside world. Dickinson begins her poem by describing how wide the brain is than the sky. Then she goes on to talk about the human brains amazing ability to absorb information by saying that the brain is deeper than the sea. And she lastly declares that our amazing brain give us god like powers. For example, when she says, “the brain is just the weight of god” (Dickinson, line 9), that helps portray this theme that the brain has the capacity to do anything god can. And how God can be this human perception, and how God created our brains this way for a reason.

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