Study Guide

To a Waterfowl Spirituality

By William Cullen Bryant

Spirituality

"To a Waterfowl" is a spiritual poem. There's no doubt about that. At first, however, it doesn't really seem like it's headed in that direction. The first half is pretty much a description of the bird's flight—it's graceful, it doesn't seem to be following any path, etc. Then, almost out of nowhere, the speaker takes a hard right turn and gets spiritual on us. He starts talking about an unseen "Power" that guides the waterfowl's movements. By the end, he comes to realize that this power guides his own movements, too. It is a poem that explains the logic of the universe in terms of that Power. Importantly, the speaker doesn't limit himself to any particular religion (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc.), which suggests that he is either not into the whole religion thing, undecided, or open to other, more broadly spiritual, ideas.

Questions About Spirituality

  1. Why do you think the speaker avoids using the word "God" in this poem? What effect does this have?
  2. Is this poem comforting from a spiritual standpoint? Why or why not?
  3. Does this poem seem forced at all? Do you find it hard to find spiritual solace in the flight of a waterfowl? Why or why not?
  4. What does the speaker's spirituality have to say about death?

Chew on This

Spirituality is about believing that the some Power—call it God or anything else—orders and directs the universe.

Deep thought: to access the spiritual power of the universe, one must have patience and be willing to find meaning in the simplest things, such as birds flying through the sky.

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