The poems of Bryant may be classed, with regard to their subjects:–those expressing a universal interest, relative to the great conditions of humanity, types of nature symbolical of these, as the Winds; poems of a national and patriotic sentiment, or expressive of the heroic in character, as the Song of Marion’s Men. Of these, probably the most enduring will be those which draw their vitality more immediately from the American soil. In these there is a purity of nature, and a certain rustic grace, which speak at once the nature of the poet and his subject. Symbolic images of nature abound in his verses. Here Id like to share some of my observation of some of the poem to a waterfowl.
Whither, ‘midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?
Whitherto what place. We have to read the whole stanza to complete the question. The author delays the meaning so long by putting in the description of time and place to create a feeling of distance to the destination. And “thee, thou, thy”–these are all poetic ways of saying “you” in the singular form. In a sense, focusing on a single distinctive “you” with no possibility of it being the plural “you.” So, maybe it is more than just poetic diction, but the emphasis of solitude.
Seek’st thou the plashy brink
Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink
On the chafed ocean side?
Rubbed away by friction, constant irritation. Here are three different possible destinations for the waterfowl. they have something in common.
There is a Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,–
The desert and illimitable air,–
Lone wandering, but not lost
If he is speaking of God (what kind of god?), why does he call him a Power? Birds migrate because of natural instincts–what is the connection to a Power here? He might imply that Nature and God are identified Again, notice the emphasis on Lone.
In the fifth stanza, cold thin atmosphere, stoop, weary,” and “welcome land” contrast sharply. which adds to the picture of the bird both concretely and symbolically. this bird’s flight is beginning to represent the lonely and lifelong struggle of the writer himself in hope of finding his welcome land
. Thou’rt gone, the abyss of heaven
Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,
And shall not soon depart.
This stanza sounds a little didactic to me. The poet clearly warns the reader that a lesson is coming. Romantic poetry is usually more subtle than that, although it does often find human, even spiritual truths in natural events. The abyss of heaven is NOT a word we often see associated with heaven! What does that suggest about his view of heaven? Does he mean that the immeasurably profoundity of heaven will always be an unfathomable chasm to him, totally beyond his kent.
In the last stanza, the word alone is found again. waterfowl ordinarily travel in groups, or at least in pairs. But it is important (and meaningful) that this bird is alone. It reveals the poets feeling about his own life. Although the last verse suggest that he has found comfort in this poem, but the word must tread alone also add some hints of shadows and conflict here.
Bryant fastened upon the genial influences of nature about him. As the present world was becoming more threatening and alienating to writers ,Individual solitude became a strand among them. So much of the greatest writing of these two hundred years is in the form of individuals alone, standing off by themselves, meditating on their own fate, William Cullen Bryant’s “To a Waterfowl.” Here perhaps better than in any other unit can we see writers living in an age of progress and democracy turning inward-and often to nature-in search of consolation.