Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

I haven’t shared any of Wallace Stevens’ longer works that I like because it doesn’t seem like a good context for it. But I can’t overlook this one. Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird was the focus of one of my research papers back in college. I remember finding it when class was looking at another poem in the book, Peter Quince at the Clavier, and I got bored and flipped around to find something more interesting.
I looked at the musical side of “Thirteen Ways,” aided by listening to Lukas Foss‘ composition of the same name that set the text of the poem for vocals and chamber ensemble. I got to blend my love of music and my love of making my schoolwork easier—I even managed to cite, in one fell swoop, nearly 100 pages of a music history textbook I was using that semester: “(Grout 676-764)”. Ha!

I like the individual moments here. One analogy I had going in the paper was that many poems are like melodies, they develop over time as the words flow by and develop and interact. These stanzas work more like a series of chords, frozen moments with each their own mood and texture. I made the deadline, anyway.

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.

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