What is the overall mood of the poem "To a Waterfowl"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the famous poem "To a Waterfowl" by William Cullen Bryant , the narrator observes a bird flying alone high in the sky while he's on a walk. The overall mood is contemplative. The narrator uses the sighting of the bird to think about the existence of God...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In the famous poem "To a Waterfowl" by William Cullen Bryant, the narrator observes a bird flying alone high in the sky while he's on a walk. The overall mood is contemplative. The narrator uses the sighting of the bird to think about the existence of God and relate it to his own life.

As the poem opens, the narrator has already caught sight of the solitary bird and is wondering where it is going. He notes that the bird is flying too far away in the dark sky to be shot by fowlers, which means people who are hunting birds. He contemplates whether the bird is seeking refuge beside a lake, a river, or the ocean.

In the next stanza, the narrator writes of a Power, meaning God, who directs the bird's flight so that it is not lost even if it is alone. The narrator urges the bird to keep flying until it finds its "summer home" in the company of others of its kind, where it can finally rest in a "sheltered nest."

In the last two stanzas, the narrator compares the flight of the lonely bird with his own situation. He has learned a lesson from the bird. Just as God guides the bird in its solitary flight through the sky, He will guide the steps of the narrator in his long path through life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Organized around the scenic images and the poet's somewhat whimsical reflections, "To a waterfowl" by William Cullen Bryant has a spiritual tone as the poet opens a dialogue between Nature and his soul:

There is a Power whose care/Teaches thy way along that pathless coast--

Certinly, these lines can hold true for man or fowl.  Like the bird that "the abyss of heaven/Hath swallowed up," the poet's soul, too, will be guided by the "Power," and have direction through his solitary journey through life.

The beautiful nature imagery of Bryant helps to create the connection of Nature with the spirit of the poet's soul.  The "marge of river wide" and "chafed ocean side" suggest that the paths of the bird are ambiguous and in need of one to guide him.  The auditory image of "scream" rather than "cry" or another word suggests the bird's exhiliration, an exhiliration to be compared to the soul's finding a path in its life journey.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team