Study Guide

To a Waterfowl Spirituality

By William Cullen Bryant

Spirituality

  There is a Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,--
The desert and illimitable air,--
  Lone wandering, but not lost (13-16)

Right smack in the middle of the poem, the speaker declares his stunning spiritual revelation: the waterfowl isn't really floating. The supposedly "pathless coast" actually has a path, and the desert isn't really a desert. They only seem that way until we look at things with the right spiritual mindset. A supernatural power is at work in the world.

  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 (21-24)

There is some spiritual consolation in these lines for sure. If we accept the fact that the speaker is kind of, sort of, just maybe thinking about death (life is "toil," death a kind of "rest"), then the "sheltered nest" and the "summer home" make death into a peaceful, relaxing afterlife.

  yet, on my heart
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,
And shall not soon depart. (26-28)

These lines demonstrate that the speaker has had a serious spiritual awakening. He has realized that the universe there is a strong, other-worldly power at work in the universe. This realization is so powerful, it takes such a strong hold on him, that the speaker describes it as sinking deep into his heart, almost like a wound.

  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 (29-32)

The poem's final lines give us the speaker's spiritual manifesto: he knows that he will never be truly alone because, well, that mysterious power that guides the waterfowl will also make sure he stays on the right path. The waterfowl and the speaker are also linked formally by the rhyme on "flight" and "aright," so that there's no doubt in our minds.

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