Poetry Thursday

I intended to post a poem I particularly love, but I happened to trip over this new-to-me poem, so let me share this one with you instead. I’ll also ask: which of the thirteen is your favorite?

***

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 the 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 women 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 fear 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.

***

I honestly don’t know which of these I might pick out as my personal favorite. There are a lot of wonderful lines here. It was evening all afternoon! A lot of wonderful stanzas too. (I) is hard to beat, actually. (II) might be the most surprising. It’s hard to choose a favorite! Maybe … maybe (V). Or maybe not! I’d have to throw a dart at this poem because I don’t think I can really pick one out.

I can’t believe I never saw this poem before! If you’ve never seen it before either, here it is. If you were already familiar with it, I hope you enjoyed recalling it today.

Image from Pixabay

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5 thoughts on “Poetry Thursday”

  1. I think the poems may be referring to some other kinds of black birds, not the songbird that goes by the name blackbird that I know (Latin name Turdus Merula).
    The disconnect between the poem’s striking imagery and the known behaviour and places where I’ve regularly seen blackbirds was a bit discombobulating to me.
    So I get tripped up by my expectations… not quite the effect these poems were aiming for, I think, though making the reader look at the world with new eyes is a great thing for poetry to achieve.

    I love the song of the blackbird in spring, always perched on the highest point in their territory (a rooftop ridge or the tall tree in the back yard) so it sounds through the neighborhood in (very) early morning and in the evening. It’s my favorite garden and woodland-edges bird.
    My parents fed the birds in their garden every day, so the blackbirds became almost tame – they’d come to the window and look inside when my father was a bit late to come out with their rolled oats and cut-up raisins; and they’d approach to about a yard from where my parents sat on the back patio to eat, and run across the lawn to chase away other blackbirds.
    But in winter they mostly moved a bit south to stay out of the cold – some stayed around, but some left. So I was a bit surprised by the association of blackbirds with snowy winter in these poems – the black birds I associate with the colder months aren’t the Turdus Merula songbirds but some of the larger Corvids that don’t live in a big group and travel south in winter.
    I’ve never seen three blackbirds, Turdus Merula songbirds, sitting together peacefully in a tree: the black male sits up high and chases away every other rival, the brown female hides much lower in the branches or even on the ground amid the bushes and leaf-litter.

  2. Hanneke, to me, “blackbird” is a generic word that applies to all grackles, imported English starlings, red-winged blackbirds, even cowbirds. These are blackbirds in the Icteridae family. The name “blackbird” also applies to various members of the Turdidae family, including the Turdus genus you mention, which includes thrushes and the American robin and lots of others. Therefore, “blackbird” behavior is a really broad category for me.

    It’s starlings that do the murmuration thing, which is the single nice thing about them as far as I’m concerned, as they have been disastrous for American species of grackles. But murmurations are just amazing to watch, especially in wide open country where you may see a dozen huge murmuration flocks all at one time. I saw that once and it was unforgettable.

  3. I agree on I and V. And if the bird is in Connecticut, it isn’t likely to be the European common Blackbird. But it isn’t the Redwing Blackbird either, as they only frequent cattail swamps. (Nor the cowbird.)

  4. Ah yes, if ‘blackbird’ isn’t just the name of a specific bird species but a whole group or two of families, with different behaviours, the poems make more sense.

    For me, starlings are a very different bird species than blackbirds; they look different, behave differently, and aren’t really black – they’re speckled and have a greenish and sometimes even purplish sheen.
    Yes, starlings flock here every autumn, collecting in bigger and bigger groups every evening before they roost for the night – they like to roost in a group of tall poplars one street over, and before that they’ll wheel and flock, land on the roof ridgepoles along a whole street and fly and wheel up and around again. Just a small murmuration, maybe more of a flock of a couple thousand, but fun to watch as long as you’re not right underneath.
    A few weeks later there will be larger murmurations elsewhere in the evenings, over the fields or over the town, as the groups gather together before they start migrating south.

  5. Starlings are black enough to count, Hanneke — especially because they’re in one of the typical blackbird families. I actually think the visual difference between a starling and a grackle is much more body shape than color. Of course grackles also have iridescent greenish bluish purple-ish colors.

    For a starling that doesn’t look like a blackbird, this. And I must say, I wish these had been imported to North America rather than the species we got. These guys might have outcompeted some species here, but at least they’re really beautiful.

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