Treasure Island

Wallace Stevens

(October 2, 1879 – August 2, 1955 / Pennsylvania / United States)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird


I

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the black bird.

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.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Sang-dae Suh (10/29/2011 10:23:00 AM)

    A few thoughts after reading Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens (1879~1955)
    by Sang-dae Suh on Thursday, June 16,2011 at 4: 20am
    As it is suggested in the title of the poem, Stevens depicts thirteen different images of a blackbird in thirteen stanzas. I can visualize thirteen unique pictures of the bird in each and every stanza of the poem. ' Why does the poet come up with so many differing delineations of the same creature? ' I wondered.

    Human beings have an intrinsic tendency to interpret an identical object or phenomenon in their own unique way according to their own unique experience and intuition. However hard we may try, we fail to free ourselves from making inevitable blunders in perceiving the world as it is. Stevens seems to suggest in this poem that we cast away our narrow-minded bias to a better understanding of other human beings and a generous embracing of different perspectives and ideas. In other words, the poet seems to be emphasizing the necessity of coexistence of an assortment of differing viewpoints.

    I think the blackbird in this poem symbolizes commonality and mediocrityㅡ average people and ordinary things we are so familiar with. As it is manifested in the fourth stanza, a blackbird seems to be an embodiment of vitality although it is a small Lilliputian being in a limitless universe. In other words, I can read the poet's design to translate mediocrity into exuberant vitality.

    From yet another point of view, the blackbird in this poem seems to symbolize time. In stanza one, the semblance of serenity and quietness of the woods belies the continuous flow of time. The law of nature never allows any severance in time's flow. It is an essential part of the law of nature that we human beings inevitably grow older and face the Death with the lapse of time. Man and time are inseparable entities in the universe, so we are doomed to succumb to the passage of time.

    Ironically, sometimes our familiarity with time makes us fail to recognize the passing of time, but then again time never stops its movement. In stanza two, there appears three minds, which are compared to three blackbirds. Each of them, I think, symbolizes the past, the present and the future. We human beings have an instinct to chew over the past to regression.

    However, only when we remain faithful to the present can we have hope for a better future. The eleventh stanza seems to depict our fear and grief at an abrupt awareness of a tremendous lapse of time. The last stanza seems to imply the eternal flow of time without any wear and tear.

    Wallace Stevens's Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird is a poem in which we can visualize a rainbow-like colorful images of a little blackbird along with as many different meanings. (Report) Reply

  • Ian Fraser (7/26/2011 4:56:00 PM)

    I think there may be rather less to this poem than meets the eye. It's been a well-known philosophical problem for most of the 20th century that it is very difficult to define being that it is other than self, as the latter acts like a kind of lens that gets in the way or as a layer of pollution in the atmosphere, depending on what sort of mood you're in. I'm not really sure how much Stevens adds to this debate though there are some effective images, especially the final one. I once asked a friend what he thought of Steven's poetry and he replied, rather unkindly, 'the sort of poetry you would expect an insurance executive to write.' That certainly isn't true of this poem, though it may be of some. (Report) Reply

  • Gary Witt (1/24/2007 3:59:00 PM)

    For an opposing viewpoint see 'Thirteen Blackbirds Looking at a Man, ' by R.S. Thomas.

    Without question this is one of my favorites by Stevens. Or should I say 13 of my favorites by Stevens. Lao Tzu with a dash of Ezra Pound, but through it all, Stevens brings his own personality and humor to bear.

    I'll let you know when I figure out VI and X. (Report) Reply

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