Wallace Stevens: Thirteen Ways of Killing a Blackbird

This poem pulled me in because of its organization, specifically the use of patterns and numbers throughout: “Among twenty snowy mountains,” “I was of three minds/Like a tree/ In whivh there are three blackbirds.” I also liked how the ways of looking at the blackbird were both figurative and literal. For example in the first two stanzas the blackbird is described directly (i.e., eyes of the blackbird, and three blackbirds in a tree) and indirectly (a man and a woman and a blackbird/are one). I’m not sure that I was able to catch the overaching theme of the poem, but thought the author was trying to link blackbirds with men (That balckbird is involved/in what I know) or is some kind of haunting creature or omen (once a fear pierced him/in that he mistook/the shadow of his equipage/for blackbirds). What did everyone else take from this poem? Are we supposed to somehow combine the thirteen ways of looking at blackbird into one?

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2 Responses to Wallace Stevens: Thirteen Ways of Killing a Blackbird

  1. sfeingold12 says:

    In response to your question about what the theme of this poem is, I feel that is it about perception and how to alter it. I think that each section of the poem is meant to be looked at as snapshots of the different ways to see black birds. However, I do not think that these “snapshots” are supposed to be looked at individually. I feel that they need to rely on each other. Through reading them as a whole you can compare them against each other The contrast between these different images is what makes the poem interesting.

    I would also like to relate this poem to some of the topics we talked about today in class. If we look at this poem through a lens relating it to Americanization, I think there is a lot to gain from this poem. Is it fair for me to make the connection that Stevens might be commenting on the different lives that are blending together in America? Could each section maybe represent a different snapshot of the various people in America? Since all the poems act off of each other and flow together, is Stevens trying to say that we should accepted each others differences and live together?

    For Example:
    II
    “I was three minds”
    Could this being talking about someone who is biracial and struggles with identities

    VII
    “O thin men of Haddam
    Why do you imagine golden birds?”
    Why would the men of a town in CT being imagining golden birds. How could this relate to seeing things through an Americanize lens

    XIII
    Could this section be taking a snapshot of northern United States and the snow that plagues them?

    Its been a long day and I hope I am making sense about this. I look forward to seeing your comments and responses

    • emcd23 says:

      I agree that the ‘snapshots’ seem like they should be taken as a whole and contrasted with each other, but I would hesitate to call it an Americanization poem. Rather, what struck me about it was the way that a completely mundane part of reality can mean so much or so little depending on the individual’s mood or perspective. For instance, take VIII; “I know noble accents / And lucid, inescapable rhythms; / But I know, too, / That the blackbird is involved / In what I know.” This suggests that, though we may be tempted to think that the meaning of life is found in ‘higher’ mental or spiritual pursuits, ultimately we have to factor in reality as we know it, even the random bits of reality like the existence of a blackbird.

      As for VII, I read it as playing off of Biblical images, specifically the image of the Golden Calf that the Israelites built for themselves to be their god. This is supported by the Bible-echoing language; “O thin men of Haddam, / Why do you imagine golden birds?” This could mean that the poet is prompting us to not look to fictional idols, prettier and “golden” though they may be, but rather to look to reality. The blackbird, after all, has far more life and power than the idol is ever going to have.

      Basically, then, I just read the poem as way to sort of ground the poet/reader in the real world, if that makes any sense. This can still play off themes we discussed in class, like the modernist belief in looking to actual THINGS and their belief in trying to see the world as it really is (as opposed to what we think it is), but I’m not really seeing enough here to think it’s about Americanization.

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