October 16 Wallace Stevens: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

I learned about the sixteen part sonnet in school. It was a form that a poet made up, an out of control sonnet with sixteen parts all written in blank verse, all somehow related to each other. It was a lot of work, but fun to do and I encourage any writer who wants to learn the art of expanding a topic to try it. It might be sixteen globs of nonsense, but I won’t tell and you can tear it up when you’re finished.

I kept mine, some parts were wonderful and some where awful, but it was a reminder of a wonderful experience, of exploring my way through a topic and discovering that I had deeper thoughts than I realized I was capable of.

This poem is not a sixteen part sonnet, but something similar. The topic is the blackbird and like the writing of the sonnet, it’s quite fun and interesting to read. It’s a bit like putting together a puzzle, moving from grouping to grouping, working to find the connection in each and the thread in all of it (I mean, other than the bird).

Two groups talk about three subjects: “Like in a tree/In which there are three blackbirds” and “A man and a woman and a blackbird/Are one.” Then there’s all this talk of cold weather with snowy mountains, icicles in windows and autumn winds. Throughout the poem, the poet carefully watches the way the bird moves and sounds. He confuses the sounds of the bird with the voices of humans – birds don’t squawk out innuendo, the poet is hearing it though. And I notice that there is a lot of scenes with confusion, “Once, a fear pierced him,/In that he mistook/The shadow of his equipage/For a blackbird” and there is an “indecipherable cause” and the last bit is all a jumble with evening in the afternoon, it’s snowing, but it’s not. What does it all mean? What does it point to? I think I’ll have to read it all again.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

by Wallace Stevens

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 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 woman 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 feat 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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About penneloppe

I like to write horror, dark fantasy and crime fiction. Sometimes, I'll write science fiction, but usually I like to write science fact. I also write screenplays and stage plays. My day job is office work. I live in Seattle and I have a cat.
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