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William Cullen Bryant. EXTREME Romanticism - Hardcore nature fan, believer in total freedom - Activist against slavery and injustice - Beyond poetry: what do Romantic ideas say about LIFE, DEATH, GOD? - Romanticist “religion” or “philosophy of life”: Transcendentalism (go-beyond-ism).

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William Cullen Bryant


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    1. William Cullen Bryant • EXTREME Romanticism- Hardcore nature fan, believer in total freedom- Activist against slavery and injustice - Beyond poetry: what do Romantic ideas say about LIFE, DEATH, GOD? - Romanticist “religion” or “philosophy of life”: Transcendentalism (go-beyond-ism)

    2. “To a Waterfowl”- 1821 • When walking home one day, Bryant saw a waterfowl and realized that the bird, while seeming alone, was actually being guided by some higher being, as was he himself, and that they both would find their way. • Finding religion in nature • Nature is the visible face of God

    3. Stanza One Stanza Two • Where you are among the dew and the glowing skies in the last hours of the day, far through the sunset, do you pursue your own way? • For selfish reasons, the hunter’s eye may catch you…so he can kill you! Your dark figure contrasts with the red sky as you float along. BYAAAAA!!

    4. Stanza Three Stanza Four • Do you seek a marshy, weedy lake or the edge of a wide river, or where the waves rise and fall on the worn-away shore of the ocean? • There is a higher power (God) that teaches you the way, even though it seems like you have no path. The desert and the air are limitless, like you and me – we are wandering alone, but we are not lost.

    5. Stanza Five Stanza Six • All day your wings work hard while you fly high in the cold, thin air…but don’t get tired and stop on the land even though the dark night is near. • Like the bird, people should not yield to weariness. They should persist, sustained by faith in a higher power, until they reach their goals. • Soon your hard work will end; you will find your summer home and rest, and talk with the other birds; soon you’ll have a comfortable nest.

    6. Stanza Seven Seven Eight • Although the waterfowl has disappeared into the unseeable depths of the skies, his lesson has sunk deep into the speaker’s heart. • The higher power who guides your flight through the limitless zones of the sky will lead my steps on my long trip home. The main theme of the poem is that just as God guides the waterfowl to its summer home, He too can guide your life until you reach your final destination.

    7. Questions for Study and Discussion • What does this question about the bird’s destination suggest to you about the poet’s state of mind? • What different effect is conveyed by the poem’s focus upon a “solitary” bird (rather than one in a flock)? • How does the introduction of the hunter (a second human observer) help to establish the poet’s sympathy with the bird? • Why is it important that the poet should imagine a restful homecoming for the bird before it disappears? • How do lines 25-26 anticipate the parallel between the bird’s flight and the poet’s earthbound journey? • What inner assurance has the poet gained? • What has provided this new assurance?

    8. Questions for Study and Discussion • What does this question about the bird’s destination suggest to you about the poet’s state of mind? • The poet is in a pensive, inquiring mood. He is trying to understand the meaning of what he sees. • What different effect is conveyed by the poem’s focus upon a “solitary” bird (rather than one in a flock)? • The solitary bird is a picturesque image, and suggests the individual traveler on his journey through life. • How does the introduction of the hunter (a second human observer) help to establish the poet’s sympathy with the bird? • The hunter wants to kill the bird, but the poet wants to observe and understand it. This contrast makes clear the poet’s sympathy with the bird.

    9. Questions for Study and Discussion • Why is it important that the poet should imagine a restful homecoming for the bird before it disappears? • The image of the bird as a lonely, weary traveler helps the poet to identify with the bird and imagine for the bird a homecoming such as the poet would enjoy. • How do lines 25-26 anticipate the parallel between the bird’s flight and the poet’s earthbound journey? • The bird’s disappearance into the “abyss of heaven” may parallel the human soul’s disappearance at the end of its journey. • What inner assurance has the poet gained? • The poet is assured that “the Power” that guides the bird to its end will also guide the poet through life to a final peaceful rest. • What has provided this new assurance? • Observation of the bird, whose tiring travels will end in “ a summer home, and rest.”