Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird


Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

"Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird" is a poem from Wallace Stevens' first book of poetry, "Harmonium." It was first published in 1917, so it is in the public domain. [Buttel, p. 206.] It consists of thirteen short, separate poems, all of which mention blackbirds in some way. Although inspired by haiku, none of the segments is actually haiku.

"Thirteen Ways..." may be interpreted as one of Stevens's exercises in perspectivism, and accordingly may be compared to such poems as The Snow Man. The perspectives that matter for Stevens issue from the poet's imagination, which, somewhat in the spirit of philosophical nominalism, can unify the world in various ways -- for example, as a man and a woman, or a man and a woman and a blackbird (stanza IV). The artist's perspective may be shaped by what he attends to, as for instance on inflections or innuendoes -- the blackbird whistling, or just after (stanza V).

The poem's haiku-like austerity is striking. Affinities to imagism and cubism are evident. Buttel proposes that the title "alludes humorously to the Cubists' practice of incorporating into unity and stasis a number of possible views of the subject observed over a span of time." [Buttel, p. 165]

Sight is the dominant perceptual modality. The poems are almost cinematic, as though, in the first poem, a camera focused on a mountain panorama and then zoomed in to the blackbird and its roaming eye. There is reason to classify it as among the metaphysical poems in "Harmonium", because it creates an aura of mystery and intimates ineffable knowledge, perhaps conveying the message that 'death comes to all that lives.' But there are also grounds for classifying it as among the book's sensualist poems. "This group of poems is not meant to be a collection of epigrams or of ideas," Stevens remarks in one of his letters, "but of sensations." [Stevens, H. p. 252] (See the main Harmonium essay, the section "A flavorously original poetic personality," for the critic Joseph Fletcher's contrast between Stevens's metaphysical and sensuous poems.)

The poem has been the inspiration for at least two pieces of music: "Thirteen Ways", by Thomas Albert; [ [http://www.eighthblackbird.com/thirteen_ways "Thirteen Ways"] ] and "Blackbirds", for Flute and Bassoon, Gregory Youtz. [ [http://www.editionsviento.com/getprod.php?prodid=199 "Blackbirds", for Flute and Bassoon] ]

Notes

References

  • Buttel, Robert. "Wallace Stevens: The Making of Harmonium". 1967: Princeton University Press.

  • Sharpe, Tony. "Wallace Stevens: A Literary Life". 2000: Macmillan Press.

  • Stevens, H. "Letters of Wallace Stevens". 1966: University of California Press

    External links

    • Ethan Georgi's drawings [http://ethandraws.blogspot.com/search?q=blackbird]
    • Edward Picot's animated illustrations [http://www.edwardpicot.com/thirteenways/]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Blackbird (disambiguation) — Blackbird can refer to:Birds*Blackbird ( Turdus merula ), a species of bird of the thrush family indigenous to Europe and Asia *New World blackbirds, about 20 species of icterid birds that resemble the Blackbird including: **Red winged Blackbird… …   Wikipedia

  • Eighth Blackbird — Pays d’origine  États Unis Genre musical Musique contemporaine américaine principalement Années d activité …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Eighth Blackbird — is a Grammy Award winning contemporary music sextet founded in 1996. The group derives its name from the Wallace Stevens poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. The ensemble deliberately spells their name in lower case. The members of… …   Wikipedia

  • Harmonium (poetry collection) — Harmonium is a book of poetry by U.S. poet Wallace Stevens. His first book, it was published in 1923 by Knopf in an edition of 1500 copies. He was in middle age at that time, forty four years old. The collection comprises 85 poems, ranging in… …   Wikipedia

  • Thomas Albert — (b. December 14, 1948 Lebanon, Pennsylvania, United States) is an American composer and educator.BiographyThomas Albert attended the public schools of Lebanon, Pennsylvania and Wilson, North Carolina. In 1970, he received the degree A.B. (Magna… …   Wikipedia

  • Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: The Trial of O. J. Simpson (1995) — ▪ Primary Source       Race was a central theme in two of the most publicized events of 1995: the trial of O. J. Simpson and the Million Man March. Simpson, a legendary former National Football League running back, was accused of murdering his ex …   Universalium

  • Maxwell Bodenheim — See also Bodenheim, Max Bodenheimer Maxwell Bodenheim (May 26, 1892 – February 6, 1954) was an American poet and novelist who was known as the King of Greenwich Village Bohemians. His writing brought him international fame during the Jazz Age of… …   Wikipedia

  • Wallace Stevens — Infobox Writer name = Wallace Stevens imagesize = 144px caption = pseudonym = birthname = birthdate = Birth date|1879|10|2 birthplace = Reading, Pennsylvania, United States deathdate = Death date and age|1955|8|2|1879|10|2 deathplace = Hartford,… …   Wikipedia

  • Haddam, Connecticut — Infobox Settlement official name = Haddam, Connecticut settlement type = Town imagesize = image caption = mapsize = 250x200px map caption = Location in Connecticut mapsize1 = map caption1 = subdivision type = NECTA subdivision name = Hartford… …   Wikipedia

  • Robene and Makyne — is a short poem by the 15th century makar Robert Henryson. It is an early example of Scottish pastourelle written in a form of ballad stanza and is almost unique of its kind. Very simple in structure and plot, yet highly compressed, multi layered …   Wikipedia


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.