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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird -- Wallace Stevens

(Poem #620) Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
 Among twenty snowy mountains,
 The only moving thing
 Was the eye of the blackbird.

 I was of three minds,
 Like a tree
 In which there are three blackbirds.

 The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
 It was a small part of the pantomime.

 A man and a woman
 Are one.
 A man and a woman and a blackbird
 Are one.

 I do not know which to prefer,
 The beauty of inflections
 Or the beauty of innuendoes,
 The blackbird whistling
 Or just after.

 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.

 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?

 I know noble accents
 And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
 But I know, too,
 That the blackbird is involved
 In what I know.

 When the blackbird flew out of sight,
 It marked the edge
 Of one of many circles.

 At the sight of blackbirds
 Flying in a green light,
 Even the bawds of euphony
 Would cry out sharply.

 He rode over Connecticut
 In a glass coach.
 Once, a fear pierced him,
 In that he mistook
 The shadow of his equipage
 For blackbirds.

 The river is moving.
 The blackbird must be flying.

 It was evening all afternoon.
 It was snowing
 And it was going to snow.
 The blackbird sat
 In the cedar-limbs.
-- Wallace Stevens
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 [1].

But his _earlier_ work - ah, that's a different matter altogether. The
'youthful' [2] 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 [3] at the
same time [4].


[1] 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.

[2] Stevens was 44 when the collection was published, but many of the poems
in it were written well before that.

[3] A reference to Pound's famous mantra, "show, don't tell".

[4] 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,


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,


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

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,
[broken link],5744,328472,00.html?query=wallace%20stevens

41 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Martin DeMello said...

<cite>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,

Personally, the more I read of Stevens, the more I want to read, whereas while
I appreciate individual pieces of Pound's, I've never felt any urge to seek his
poems out.


Massimo Bacigalupo said...

By the way, this is Stevens's comment on Poem VII:
"The thin men of Haddam are entirely fictitious although some years
ago one of the citizens of that place wrote me to ask what I had in
mind. I just like the name. It is an old whaling town, I believe. In
any case, it has a completely Yankee sound".
Prof. Massimo Bacigalupo
American Literature - Letteratura Anglo-americana
Universita' di Genova
DISCLIC - Dipartimento di Scienze Comunicazione Linguistica Culturale
Piazza S. Sabina 2
16124 Genova GE Italy

Anonymous said...

Help me out with the glass coach

Kamagra said...

many points of views, many way to see the same mountain, I think that author want to express their own way to see the world, all the feelings and the emotions that a only human can feel and express.

Anonymous said...

thinks for your efforts

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