Cranch's contemporaries noted that his poems were sometimes too philosophical, coming from the mind rather than the heart. His skill as a writer of sonnets, however, was universally acknowledged. Some of the more celebrated poems of his lifetime were in a series titled "Life and Death," including:
If death be final, what is life, with all
Its lavish promises, its thwarted aims,
Its lost ideals, its dishonored claims,
Its uncompleted growth? A prison wall,
Whose heartless stones but echo back our call;
An epitaph recording but our names;
A puppet-stage where joys and griefs and shames
Furnish a demon jesters' carnival;
A plan without a purpose or a form;
A roofless temple; an unfinished tale,
And men like madrepores through calm and storm
Toil, die to build a branch of fossil frail,
And add from all their dreams, thoughts, acts, belief,
A few more inches to a coral-reef.
Cranch was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery, relatively close to Nathaniel Parker Willis, who died the same day 25 years earlier.