The best way to analyze William Cullen Bryant's poem "To a Waterfowl" is by looking at each stanza individually – and then as a whole. The poem is an affirmation of the poet's belief in God and an afterlife in Heaven. The poem catalogs the flight of a bird across the sky as it is guided by the unseen hand of God.
The poem "To A Waterfowl" is a lyrical poem written in a combination of iambic trimeter and iambic pentameter. It is divided into eight stanzas, each with the same meter structure and rhyming pattern.
In the first stanza of the poem, Bryant describes the path of a water bird across the evening sky as the sun sets and wonders where the bird is going. In the second, he describes how a hunter might try in vain to shoot the bird out of the crimson-colored sky. He speaks to the bird directly in the third stanza, asking it if it is looking for a "weedy lake," the banks of a river or the ocean's shore. Then, in stanza four, he introduces the idea that the bird is guided by the hand of God with the words "There is a Power whose care teaches thy way along that pathless coast—desert and illimitable air" and acknowledges his understanding of the truth that, despite appearing alone, the bird is "wandering, but not lost."
As the poem continues, Bryant elaborates on the bird's long journey and comments on how weary it must be. "All day thy wings have fanned at that far height, the cold, thin atmosphere." He comforts the bird in stanza six, telling it, "Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest, and scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend on o'er thy sheltered nest." Finally, in the last two stanzas, Bryant recognizes the similarity between his own long journey through life and the bird's solitary flight.