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Monday, July 1, 2013

"To a Waterfowl" A Critical Analysis

This is a critical response to the American romantic poet William Cullen Bryant’s poem, "To a Waterfowl." Although there is a creative use of allegory which depicts natural objects in the narrative as being equal in meaning to themes and subjects that are completely outside the narrative, the interplay of words, ideas, and sentiments meld and culminate in this poem as a cohesive and sustainable fountain of imagery that led me to deduce, quite romantically, that, no matter how circumstances present themselves in life, every life is directed by the providence of God.

The central motive of the poem does indeed seem to be a moral teaching about God’s benevolent providence. The waterfowl is an allegory for heartbreak. Figuratively speaking, the bird is only used as a visual reference. Allegorically speaking, however, perhaps to people living in the city or people outside the confines of the church, the waterfowl may represent the struggle every individual who has ever existed experiences in life. It seems clear to me that the vulnerable little bird is on a journey and that he has an adversary. This adversary, a hunter or fowler, represents the pursuing threat of death or unknown peril. #writinghelps

Uncertainty in the form of fog alludes to obscurity “through rosy depths” and “crimson sky,” whereas, “plashy brink” bespeaks water, peace, and contemplative things such as choice of direction. Life’s uncertain destination, a “pathless coast” denotes an unseen power. Is this power God? Will there be obstacles to the objective? Intrigue is a common romantic theme, one of embarking on a journey like a river progressing to the ocean. Any traveler is apt to experience weariness persevering alone, outnumbered, overwhelmed, and melancholy in the face of such adversity. “All day thy wings have fann'd.” Yet, as night acquiesces to the dawning of day, frustration and melancholy give way to thoughts of an end to toil and travel. The waterfowl triumphantly arrives at a seeming place of rest, the intended destination where undoubtedly a jubilant scream of celebration is found, albeit muted by contemplation of this illusive achievement or arrival.

Further on, a mention of toil indicates a figurative death on the horizon with day as metaphor for life and night as that of death, the ultimate permanent end to struggle. The bird’s flight and subsequent demise culminates in the phrase, “swallowed up in the abyss of heaven.” Life, “thou art gone.” He who orchestrates all life, God Almighty, from breath to breath and age to age, through all the developmental stages of life, guides each life along its course as He dictates. I, as the reader, was directed to look literally at natural things but think very figuratively about the power of God exhibited in nature with romantic allusions to the Bible through the mention of heaven and the usage of archaic and melodious language such as “thou art gone.” One might say that, with this poem, Bryant killed two birds with one stone. The thematic focus begins with the bird through personification and leads progressively to the author who learns a lesson by witnessing the bird. In this way, Bryant makes the point that every experience counts and is significant both in nature and in life. Hence,  the poet herein makes the poem relevant to the myriad conditions of humanity, the loneliness of both the waterfowl and the author within the sovereign providence of God. 

© 2009 Brian L Hunter