Poet and literary critic Thomas Holley Chivers said that the "only thing [Bryant] ever wrote that may be called Poetry is 'Thanatopsis', which he stole line for line from the Spanish. The fact is, that he never did anything but steal — as nothing he ever wrote is original." Contemporary critic Edgar Allan Poe, on the other hand, praised Bryant and specifically the poem "June" in his essay "The Poetic Principle":
The rhythmical flow, here, is even voluptuous — nothing could be more melodious. The poem has always affected me in a remarkable manner. The intense melancholy which seems to well up, perforce, to the surface of all the poet's cheerful sayings about his grave, we find thrilling us to the soul — while there is the truest poetic elevation in the thrill. The impression left is one of a pleasurable sadness.
Editor and children's writer Mary Mapes Dodge wrote that Bryant's poems "have wrought vast and far-reaching good in the world." She predicted, "You will admire more and more, as you grow older, the noble poems of this great and good man."
Bryant's poetry is tender and graceful, pervaded by a contemplative melancholy, and a love of solitude and the silence of the woods. Though he was brought up to admire Pope, and in his early youth imitated him, he was one of the first American poets to throw off his influence. He had a high sense of duty, was a prominent and patriotic citizen, and enjoyed the esteem and even the reverence of his fellow-countrymen.