Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Wallace Stevens

Copywrite - Public Domain

Original text source: Harmonium (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, September 7, 1923): 135-37. York University Library Special Collections 734

First publication date: December 1917

1 Among twenty snowy mountains,
2 The only moving thing
3 Was the eye of the blackbird.

4 I was of three minds,
5 Like a tree
6 In which there are three blackbirds.

7 The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
8 It was a small part of the pantomime.

9 A man and a woman
10 Are one.
11 A man and a woman and a blackbird
12 Are one.

13 I do not know which to prefer,
14 The beauty of inflections
15 Or the beauty of innuendoes,
16 The blackbird whistling
17 Or just after.

18 Icicles filled the long window
19 With barbaric glass.
20 The shadow of the blackbird
21 Crossed it, to and fro.
22 The mood
23 Traced in the shadow
24 An indecipherable cause.

25 O thin men of Haddam,
26 Why do you imagine golden birds?
27 Do you not see how the blackbird
28 Walks around the feet
29 Of the women about you?

30 I know noble accents
31 And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
32 But I know, too,
33 That the blackbird is involved
34 In what I know.

35 When the blackbird flew out of sight,
36 It marked the edge
37 Of one of many circles.

38 At the sight of blackbirds
39 Flying in a green light,
40 Even the bawds of euphony
41 Would cry out sharply.

42 He rode over Connecticut
43 In a glass coach.
44 Once, a fear pierced him,
45 In that he mistook
46 The shadow of his equipage
47 For blackbirds.

48 The river is moving.
49 The blackbird must be flying.

50 It was evening all afternoon.
51 It was snowing
52 And it was going to snow.
53 The blackbird sat
54 In the cedar-limbs.

This is one of my favorite poems. Not only is it WEIRD AS HELL, but it's rarely interpreted the same way by two people. Wallace Stevens is a genius, I say this not because his writing is particularly incredible, but anything that made people think as much as this has is a beautiful work of art. For those concerned, here is the way things played out when my friend and I attempted to interpret this twisted piece of litterature:

    Stanza One: This is very likely a verse about necrophilia. Stevens was somewhat fond of the subject (refer to Emperor of Ice Cream. "Among twenty snowy mountains" could be seen as ten dead women (twenty boobs, two per chick). "The only moving thing was the eye of the blackbird" would then, of course, refer to a (the) man's penis.

    Stanza Two: I actually decided that this may have been an attempt at a religious verse. "I am of three minds, like a tree, in which there are, three blackbirds." I have bolded the word three due to the significance in christian literature, the father, son, and holy ghost aka the "holy trinity".

    Stanza Three: I had trouble with this one, all we could figure is that he may be saying one man is but a small part of the world, that all the tiny things going on make up one big picture.

    Stanza Four: Another religious one - "A man and a woman are one" - the two are married, and therefor one being, whole. "A man and a woman and a blackbird are one" - the two are also whole with God in the relationship, perhaps moreso. If nothing else, it comes back to the whole power of three thing again (1+1+1=1?).

    Stanza Five: I believe this to be sort of a statement of "I do not know which is more beautiful, the things in this world, God creating them, or just after he has done so." Yeah, kinda weak, i know, but it's the best I could do.

    Stanza Six: This came across as a "God is everywhere, the reason is not always clear" statement. The blackbird crosses the window, "yeah! god's here, and is always with us" but the indecipherable cause? "why is he here? we will never know..."

    Stanza Seven: This one seemed fairly obvious to me. It appears as a direct refference to the second commandment from the book of Exodus - thou shalt not worship graven images. In other words, don't pray to golden idols, worship the one God. Now granted, Stevens was probably not litteraly reffering to golden statues, but modern day idols of money, power and fame still exist.

    Stanza Eight: I know a lot of things, but I know that God knows them all as well, and is involved in everything I do.

    Stanza Nine: I have NO clue, sorry :)

    Stanza Ten: This is kind of a refference to men being god fearing. Even those who constantly sing his praise, will be frightened and cry in the presence of the lord.

    Stanza Eleven: Again, the godfearing idea. A man, likely a sinner (maybe a lawyer :) ), sees the shadow of his carriage and jumps in fear, thinking it to be the blackbird (god) come to judge him.

    Stanza Twelve: If the world exists, it is because God is there. Everything happens through and with and because of God.

    Stanza Thirteen: Not really sure on this one, perhaps kind of a, "night and day, good or bad weather, god will always be there".

So, for the most part, I interpreted this as somewhat of a religious statement (minus stanza one, but hey, I calls em like I sees em ;) ). What else can I say besides: Wallace Stevens, you are one twisted Mother Fscker!


As with any interpretation, of course, any but the original author is WAAAAY off the mark. These following are notes Wallace made himself about the letters. The numbers refer to line numbers of the poem.

1] In a letter to L. W. Payne, Jr., Stevens patiently explained that the poem dealt with sense experiences or "sensations" (Letters, 251).

25] Haddam: a town in Connecticut whose men may have dug once for gold but whose distinctively "Yankee"-sounding name accounted for its use here (Letters, 251, 786).

40] bawds of euphony: evidently, literary critics, those who make money off other men's enjoyment of harmony (Letters, 340).

(Wallace's notes were found here: