Study Guide

To a Waterfowl Power

By William Cullen Bryant

Power

The speaker is very careful about this touchiest of subjects. He never describes the "Power" of line 13 as God, even though there's a good chance that this is what he means. Nevertheless, "To a Waterfowl" is very much a spiritual poem. The speaker begins by essentially saying the waterfowl's flight is aimless, that it just "floats" through a sky that is completely limitless and open. Somewhere in the middle, he realizes that, in fact, a powerful, spiritual force is guiding it, the same force that will help him when he is alone. You could almost say that the poem poses a question or problem—the total randomness of the universe—and offers supernatural or spiritual power (something like God) as the answer.

  • Lines 13-14: After observing the waterfowl for a few stanzas, the speaker realizes that its flight is by no means random. A mysterious "Power" guides and directs it. This insight could be taken as a metaphor for the idea of the universe as an ordered place.
  • Lines 26-28: The "lesson" the speaker describes here is this: the universe isn't chaotic and random, it only seems that way. A powerful spiritual force underpins it all, and ensures that everything follows its proper path. "Lesson" indicates that the speaker is metaphorically thinking of his relationship to the waterfowl as one between student and teacher. In the poem's concluding stanza, the speaker will show us what a good student he is and summarize what he's learned—"A plus" for him.
  • Lines 29-32: The speaker finally inserts himself into the equation. He concludes the poem by telling us that the same power that guides the waterfowl will also guide him. The "long way" that the speaker describes is really a metaphor for any part of life when the going will get tough and things are hard—the bad times, in other words.

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