Thursday, October 15, 2009

Poem Analysis #1

For the inaugural poem analysis thread, I thought I'd choose one of my very favorite poems by one of my very favorite poets. This poem is so unique to me because it sets out in the very title to try and describe one ordinary thing in many ways, and you will be surprised how different they end up being. Here goes.

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.


As you can see, each stanza has something to say about the blackbird, or makes the blackbird a metaphor for something else, but it becomes another "way of looking at a blackbird." I love how the styles Stevens imitates are so diverse. Some stanzas are extremely simple in language, while others have words I have to look up to remember what they mean. I think every writer can take something away from this poem, whether it is to emulate the tone and style of others' writing on occasion, or to try and look at something from as many angles as possible to come up with something new to say about it.

I could say SO many things about this poem, but I don't want to intimidate anyone who'd like to chime in here, so I'm going to limit the rest of my comments to the final (thirteenth) stanza, my personal favorite. This stanza has such striking juxtapositions in the first three lines. I have experienced days where "it was snowing and it was going to snow." The sky is so dim that it is easy to imagine it being "evening all afternoon." The clouds just look like they're going to collapse onto the ground they are so heavy. I just never would have thought to describe them in that specific way. 

So, what do you all think? Love it? Hate it? Wonder about something? Want to throw out an idea on what Stevens was imitating or getting at with one of the stanzas? Let 'er rip!! I want to see your ideas.


Anonymous said...

This poem comes across like a series of aphorisms. I like it. Except number IV. Number IV just seemed silly.

I was also struck by the line "it was evening all afternoon." (This was before I read your comments.) What a perfect way to put it.

I like the image in III; I pictured a little mini-tornado of leaves and bird. Also the mood of XI; haven't we all felt that way at times: suddenly startled when you see one thing and think it's another? VII was good, too. I took it to mean that people sometimes foolishly grasp at lofty ambitions while ignoring the pragmatic reality.

Cool idea to do poetry analysis. I'm looking forward to more!

Anonymous said...

I agree- the final stanza is the best, though the first is a very striking image as well. I think I prefer those to the more metaphoric stanzas, though I can't put my finger on why. Perhaps I just prefer images of nature; and yes, cool idea to do poetry analysis- estall pointed me here :) Neat!

Me said...

Ok, I'm finally here, with my new identity ;)
I actually really enjoyed this poem. My favorite thing about it isn't the subject matter, it's the whole idea that there can be so many ways to look at one thing. It's a reminder that there are different situations and different perspectives. I might not find Blackbirds so beautiful or want to devote a poem to them but that *someone* does means something.

My favorite stanza is XII:
The river is moving,
The blackbird must be flying.

They are two things that aren't really connected, and yet, they *are* so connected. The river isn't moving because the blackbird is flying or vice versa, but it's still so true that there is a moving river and a blackbird flying.

Alicia said...

Unfortunately the last post didn't come up with my name...hope this one does!

paige said...

i love this line... these little words: "And lucid inescapable rhythms" - i'm not sure why... it's my favourite part of the poem. & i was glad that the first commenter said that IV seemed silly - 'cause that's what i was thinking too.