"To a Waterfowl" seems obsessed with life—for the most part. It talks about a waterfowl flitting about, it mentions other people who are alive (the speaker, the fowler), and everywhere we turn there are images of life (lake, river, ocean). One should always be a little wary when things start to seem like overkill. In this case, for example, we have a poem that is as much about life as it is about death. In the second half of the poem especially, the speaker has death on his mind—all that talk about nighttime, and rest, and an end to toil is very clearly about the dirt nap, the Big Sleep, the Final Boarding Call (um, death).
Questions About Death
How does the speaker feel about death? How can you tell?
Do you think William Cullen Bryant was worried about his own death at all when he wrote this poem? Why or why not?
John Keats once referred to a nightingale as an "immortal bird." How would Bryant describe the waterfowl?
Bryant wrote a really famous poem about death called "Thanatopsis." How does "To a Waterfowl" compare with that one?
Chew on This
Death seems scary, but in fact it's very peaceful. It is a long rest, a respite from all of life's toil, so just relax and kick your feet up.
Death is all around us, no matter what. The speaker's many metaphors for death tell us much. All we can do is accept it and keep moving forward.