Sunday, September 29, 2013

ModPo 2013 #18 The Blackbird and The Maya Bird: On Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Blackbird"

Image from

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.

Wallace Stevens, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. Copyright 1954 by Wallace Stevens. From 


I'm so glad we took up this poem this week. I've always been intrigued by this poem but I've never really participated in a close reading of this poem before. I was really captivated by not only the poem but the ensuing discussion of the poem. 

My favorite stanza is Stanza VII (the exact middle of the poem). There is something biblical about the way it is written (calling on the traditions of the way the Psalms were written) but situating the stanza in Haddam which sounds biblical but is actually a city in Connecticut. It juxtaposes the "golden bird" with the common blackbird and it places the blackbirds among "the feet/ Of the women about you"). I thought that was really beautiful. Don't go seeking that mythical golden bird when all around you is beauty. You may not recognize this beauty because it is low, it is at your feet (why would you look down instead of up?). The speaker situates the blackbirds among women as well, emphasizing their relative unimportance in the biblical tradition (aren't they counted as chattel?). So, yes, the stanza emphasizes the imagist manifesto of "absolute freedom in choice of subject." One needs not the lofty in poetry. Just look at what is at your feet. 

I've always appreciated this poem by Stevens. But I appreciate it even more as I see the flight from the physical to the metaphysical to the metapoetic. 

I'm inspired to write:

Image from 

Five Ways of Looking at The Maya Bird
by Justine C. Tajonera

"When the blackbird flew out of sight,/It marked the edge/ Of one of many circles."
- Wallace Stevens

Don't mourn for her.
She is not the pipit in the song. 
She is no sparrow. 
No one has thrown any stones
at her. 

Mousy brown pest
picks at the garbage dump.
It skitters away with the
last morsel on the
Jollibee leftover wing. 

National birds belong
in textbooks. 
This one nods
and flies. 

The bird watches the flood rise.
Its brown feathers are the color
of mud. 

This bird signifies
my ignorance.  

Note: The maya bird was known as the Philippines' national bird until 1995 when it was replaced by the Philippine eagle. For many Filipinos, the image of the maya bird has always been the Eurasian tree sparrow. However, the national bird known as the maya bird is actually the black-headed munia. I only found this out today when I did my research.

I have added a link on the pipit referenced in this poem for those who are interested. 

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