“To a Waterfowl” (1818), by William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

“Pinkfeet, the Wild Geese of England” (1949) by Sir Peter Scott (1909-1989), Baron Fine Art Gallery.

William Cullen Bryant, ca. 1876

This poem is a favorite, and came to my mind after seeing that Psalm 91 is the appointed Psalm to be read this coming Sunday. I’ve included the text of Psalm 91 after Bryant’s poem – note the similarities and shared themes!

Bryant’s biography is an interesting one, as he is known as the poet who really brought American poetry to the world scene in the early 19th Century with his poem, “Thanatopsis.” You can read more about Bryant here.

Whither, ‘midst falling dew, 
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day, 
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue 
Thy solitary way? 

Vainly the fowler’s eye 
Might mark thy distant flight, to do thee wrong, 
As, darkly seen against the crimson sky, 
Thy figure floats along. 

Seek’st thou the plashy brink 
Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide, 
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink 
On the chaféd ocean side? 

There is a Power, whose care 
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,— 
The desert and illimitable air 
Lone wandering, but not lost. 

All day thy wings have fanned, 
At that far height, the cold thin atmosphere; 
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land, 
Though the dark night is near. 

And soon that toil shall end, 
Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest, 
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend, 
Soon, o’er thy sheltered nest. 

Thou’rt gone, the abyss of heaven 
Hath swallowed up thy form, yet, on my heart 
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given, 
And shall not soon depart. 

He, who, from zone to zone, 
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight, 
In the long way that I must trace alone, 
Will lead my steps aright. 

Psalm 91

    He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

    I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress:
My God; in him will I trust.

    Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler,
And from the noisome pestilence.

    He shall cover thee with his feathers,
And under his iwings shalt thou trust:
His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.

    Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night;
Nor for the arrow that flieth by day;

    Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness;
Nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.

    A thousand shall fall at thy side,
And ten thousand at thy right hand;
But it shall not come nigh thee.

    Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold
And see the reward of the wicked.

    Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge,
Even the most High, thy habitation;

10    There shall no evil befall thee,
Neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.

11    For he shall give his angels charge over thee,
To keep thee in all thy ways.

12    They shall bear thee up in their hands,
Lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.

13    Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder:
The young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.

14    Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him:
I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.

15    He shall call upon me, and I will answer him:
I will be with him in trouble;

I will deliver him, and ghonour him.
16    With long life will I satisfy him,
And shew him my salvation.[1]

[1] The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ps 91.

2 thoughts on ““To a Waterfowl” (1818), by William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

  1. This is my favorite poem in the English language. It is recognized by literary scholars for its beautiful content and structure. I never made the connection between this poem and Psalm 91. WONDERFUL to learn of this!


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