February 09, 2006

Poem : Stevens : Thirteen Ways.

On the tail of my previous post, I wanted to share this poem, an old-time favorite of mine.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
by Wallace Stevens

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.

This poem, to me, speaks to that very kind of attentiveness that I hinted at in my previous post. This poem makes no claims to prophecy although, given the symbolism of the blackbird, it easily could have. Instead, Stevens focuses on simple, unexplained observations and events, vivid in detail but often left uninterpreted. To me, each fragment is a new way of honoring the subtle existence of the creature, trying to articulate its amazing value without needing to refer to its "significance" per se.

I suggest this as a good exercise in such observation, actually. It was one of the first exercises I learned as a beginning poet--the assignment: write a poem about a number of different ways of perceiving the same object, being or event. Try to mimic Stevens' style, recording impressions and associations without imposing interpretations on them. Try juxtaposing ideas or images in ways that make the mind leap or buck. Notice how we can find a sense of meaning in such experiences and images without connecting-the-dots or relying on supernatural or bizarre explanations. Teach yourself how to see the world and yourself in this light; before putting two and two together, learn the value of "two" and of "one" in themselves.


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