(Poem #620) Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
I Among twenty snowy mountains, The only moving thing Was the eye of the blackbird. II I was of three minds, Like a tree In which there are three blackbirds. III The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds. It was a small part of the pantomime. IV A man and a woman Are one. A man and a woman and a blackbird Are one. V I do not know which to prefer, The beauty of inflections Or the beauty of innuendoes, The blackbird whistling Or just after. VI Icicles filled the long window With barbaric glass. The shadow of the blackbird Crossed it, to and fro. The mood Traced in the shadow An indecipherable cause. VII O thin men of Haddam, Why do you imagine golden birds? Do you not see how the blackbird Walks around the feet Of the women about you? VIII I know noble accents And lucid, inescapable rhythms; But I know, too, That the blackbird is involved In what I know. IX When the blackbird flew out of sight, It marked the edge Of one of many circles. X At the sight of blackbirds Flying in a green light, Even the bawds of euphony Would cry out sharply. XI He rode over Connecticut In a glass coach. Once, a fear pierced him, In that he mistook The shadow of his equipage For blackbirds. XII The river is moving. The blackbird must be flying. XIII It was evening all afternoon. It was snowing And it was going to snow. The blackbird sat In the cedar-limbs.
Wallace Stevens stands self-confessed as a philosophical poet; his poems are (usually) more analytical than descriptive, seeking answers to profound questions about reality and the mind's relation thereto. This in itself is not a bad thing - the world needs logic as much as it does romance. Unfortunately, there is such a thing as going too far, and I have to confess myself unmoved by most of Stevens' later work. I just find it a wee bit _too_ detached, too dense and serious and controlled for my taste . But his _earlier_ work - ah, that's a different matter altogether. The 'youthful'  exuberance evident in his first collection of poems, 1923's "Harmonium", lends his early verse a vitality (and a strong sense of the unexpected) that I feel is somewhat lacking in his later output. "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" is an excellent example of Wallace's willingness to experiment in those days. The poem is simple enough - a series of Imagistic fragments, each one exploring a different thought that arises in the poet's mind as he looks out upon a blackbird - but for its time it was revolutionary. Ezra Pound and H[ilda] D[oolittle] may have introduced haiku-like minimalism into English poetry, but Stevens was the first to show that such minimalism could both show _and_ tell  at the same time . thomas.  Note that I do not say "too dry": Stevens has written some of the most astonishingly lush, rich verse this side of Dylan Thomas, and the technical virtuosity he invariably exhibits is nothing short of masterly.  Stevens was 44 when the collection was published, but many of the poems in it were written well before that.  A reference to Pound's famous mantra, "show, don't tell".  Ironically enough, I can think of few poets as dissimilar (in their overall poetic output) as Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens. I'm a Pound fan, myself. [Links] Given his current stature (at least in critical circles), Wallace Stevens is relatively under-represented on the Minstrels. Nonetheless, do check out Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock, Poem #154 The Emperor of Ice-Cream, Poem #180 The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad, Poem #373 Two Figures in Dense Violet Light, Poem #459 all of which can be found in the Minstrels archive, http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/ [Biography] b. Oct. 2, 1879, Reading, Pa., U.S. d. Aug. 2, 1955, Hartford, Conn. American poet whose work explores the interaction of reality and what man can make of reality in his mind. It was not until late in life that Stevens was read at all widely or recognized as a major poet by more than a few. Stevens attended Harvard for three years, worked briefly for the New York Herald Tribune, and then won a degree (1904) at the New York Law School and practiced law in New York City. His first published poems, aside from college verse, appeared in 1914 in Poetry, and thereafter he was a frequent contributor to the literary magazines. In 1916 he joined an insurance firm in Hartford, Conn., rising in 1934 to vice president, a position he held until his death. Harmonium (1923), his first book, sold fewer than 100 copies but received some favourable critical notices; it was reissued in 1931 and in 1947. In it he introduced the imagination-reality theme that occupied his creative lifetime, making his work so unified that he considered three decades later calling his collected poems "The Whole of Harmonium." He displayed his most dazzling verbal brilliance in his first book; he later tended to relinquish surface lustre for philosophical rigour. In Harmonium appeared such poems as "Le Monocle de Mon Oncle," "Sunday Morning," "Peter Quince at the Clavier," and Stevens' own favourites, "Domination of Black" and "The Emperor of Ice-Cream"; all were frequently republished in anthologies. Harmonium also contained "Sea Surface Full of Clouds," in which waves are described in terms of such unlikely equivalents as umbrellas, French phrases, and varieties of chocolate, and "The Comedian as the Letter C," in which he examines the relation of the poet, or man of imagination, to society. In the 1930s and early '40s, this theme was to reappear, although not to the exclusion of others, in Stevens' Ideas of Order (1935), The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937), and Parts of a World (1942). Transport to Summer (1947) incorporated two long sequences that had appeared earlier: "Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction" and "Esthétique du Mal" ("Aesthetic of Evil"), in which he argues that beauty is inextricably linked with evil. The Auroras of Autumn (1950) was followed by his Collected Poems (1954), which earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. A volume of critical essays, The Necessary Angel, appeared in 1951. After Stevens' death, Samuel French Morse edited Opus Posthumous (1957), including poems, plays, and prose omitted from the earlier collection. -- EB Also, check out the Criterion review of Stevens' Collected Poems and Prose, at [broken link] http://www.britannica.com/bcom/magazine/article/0,5744,328472,00.html?query=wallace%20stevens