Study Guide

To a Waterfowl Man and the Natural World

By William Cullen Bryant

Man and the Natural World

"To a Waterfowl" isn't just a poem about one guy's spiritual conflict. Let's not forget that it is about a waterfowl—about its graceful flight through the sky and all that jazz. The natural world, however, isn't just a work of art to be admired for its beauty. Well, it is that, but it's a special kind of work, a work that that has answers—kind of like a book or an encyclopedia. The waterfowl, and by extension of course the natural world, symbolizes beauty, but is also the place to go for answers. It is, after all, by observing the waterfowl that the speaker finds comfort and solace—an answer to the riddle of his life. (And no, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fans, it's not 42.)

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. What is the relationship between man and the natural world in this poem?
  2. Other than the fact that this poem is about a waterfowl, why do you think there is so much water here (dew, ocean, lake, river)?
  3. Why does the poem include contrasting natural regions, like the desert (a very arid place) and the oceans and rivers (very wet places)? What effect does this have?
  4. How does this poem compare to other "nature" poems you've read?

Chew on This

Stop Googling, gang. The answer to most of life's questions, if not all of them, can be found in the natural world, symbolized in this poem by the waterfowl.

Mankind isn't really all that different from nature. The waterfowl, for example, is in many ways the speaker's double.

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