Bryant established himself as a poet in his teens and was generally regarded as the leading American poet from about 1825 until his death more than fifty years later. He was trained as a lawyer and employed as a journalist. Originally a Democrat, he later became one of the founders of the Republican Party.
William Cullen Bryant 1794-1878
To A Waterfowl
Wither, '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 painted on 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 chafed 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 thous find a summer home, and rest,
And scream among thy fellow; 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 tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.
Some modern readers resent having a poem spell out its moral and theological "lesson" so baldly, but a work with so much accuracy of observation and grace of form has earned the right to a bit of sententiousness. Matthew Arnold called this "the most perfect brief poem in the language."