Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird 

 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.

"Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird" is a poem from Wallace Stevens' first book of poetry, Harmonium. It was first published in the literary magazine Others: A Magazine of the New Verse in December 1917, so it is in the public domain.[1][2]


"Thirteen Ways..." consists of thirteen short, separate poems, all of which mention blackbirds in some way. Although inspired by haiku, none of the segments is actually a haiku.

It 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."[3]

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."[4] (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 four pieces of music: "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird", by Lukas Foss, Thirteen Ways, by Thomas Albert;[5], "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," by Louise Talma for Tenor/Soprano, Oboe/Flute, and Piano[6], and Blackbirds, for Flute and Bassoon, Gregory Youtz.[7]

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  • 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

Notes Edit

External links Edit

  • Ethan Georgi's drawings [1]
  • Edward Picot's animated illustrations [2]
Audio / video
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