What questions are asked in the first three stanzas of "To a Waterfowl"?

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In the first stanza of "To a Waterfowl," the speaker asks the bird where it flies on its own at the close of day. The sunset that accompanies the bird is richly described as glowing and rosy. The word "whither" is an archaic adverb meaning "to where" which can mean literally to what place, as well as what state.

In the second stanza, the speaker does not ask a question, but instead observes that a fowler (a hunter of birds) might track the bird's movements against the colorful sunset sky with the vain intention of shooting it.

In the third stanza, the speaker asks what kind of place the bird is looking for to alight, whether a lake, river, or ocean. The unspoken question seems to be how the bird knows where to go along the "pathless coast" it follows.

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In "To a Waterfowl," the speaker of William Cullen Bryant's poem asks these three questions:

  1. In the first stanza, the speaker asks which direction is the "solitary way" of the waterfowl. In other words, the speaker wants to know where the bird is flying.
  2. In the second stanza, there are two questions. The first asks the waterfowl if he is searching for a "plashy brink"; that is, a wetland, or marshy pool.
  3. Later in the second stanza, following the line of the speaker's question that asks if the bird seeks "a plashy brink," the speaker then asks if the bird seeks "the marge of a river wide"; that is, the margin, or edge of a wide river, or the edge of the ocean--"where the rocking billows rise and sink/On the chafed ocean-side."

Thus, in this poem, Bryant ponders a mystery of nature, wondering what guides the waterfowl in his long flight. He marvels at how the bird instinctively knows which way to fly in order to find warmth for the winter, that is, "a summer home." In his pondering of the flight of the bird, the speaker feels that like the bird, he, too, will be guided by a higher power who will "lead [his] steps aright" when the time comes that he "must tread alone."

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