The “father of American poets,” William Cullen Bryant, was born in
Cummington, Massachusetts, 3 November 1794. “To a Waterfowl” is one of
his best-known poems. When he was only seventeen years of age, he
wrote “Thanatopsis,” which is considered the first great American
William Cullen Bryant, who practiced law for ten years in
Massachusetts, was well known as a poet and literary critic. He moved to
New York City in 1825, where he became well-known as an editor of the
New York Evening Post. A writer of plain, straightforward
editorials, he was influential in his time and opposed slavery. On 12
June 1878, he died in New York City.
I especially appreciate the sensitivity shown in lines five and six
of this poem: “Vainly the fowler’s eye / Might mark thy distant flight
to do thee wrong,” as well as the way he expresses his faith in a Higher
Power in the last stanza.
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?
Vainly the fowler’s eye
Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong,
As, darkly painted on the crimson sky,
Thy figure floats along.
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?
There is a Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast—
The desert and illimitable air—
Lone wandering, but not lost.
All day thy wings have fanned,
At that far height, the cold, thin atmosphere,
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
Though the dark night is near.
And soon that toil shall end;
Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend,
Soon o’er thy sheltered nest.
Thou’rt gone, the abyss of heaven
Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart
Deeply has sunk the lesson thou hast given,
And shall not soon depart.
He who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.