Wallace Stevens: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

So much has happened in the century since this was first published, yet it remains fresh.

Vox Populi


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?


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20 thoughts on “Wallace Stevens: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

  1. Fresh indeed. This is such a wonderful poem. I had the chance, two years ago, to teach it among other poems to a group of freshmen. Some tuned out, but quite a few were entranced. Perhaps I planted some seeds….

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Apologies for jumping in ahead of Robert, but there are a lot of reasons for the various species of blackbirds to appear in poems. They can be fairly big birds, and they are not afraid of hanging around people, including poets, so there’s observational material to work with. Like white swans, they have a built-in visual contrast that lets them symbolize abstracts, conventionally death or mystery.

    If one watches them closely, their intelligence may be noticed, which adds a practical addition to their mystery.Their flocking behavior and social organization can be spectacular, they can fill trees and explode out of them like dark, instantly coordinated, clouds. I don’t recall any poems that feature that off hand though.

    As Stevens often composed poems while walking to work, I wonder if observed blackbirds then.

    Anyway, glad to see this poem here. Enormously influential to me after encountering it as young man or old boy. For a few months I kept writing poems with varied length sections and Roman numerals. I doubt I was the only one (grin).

    Anyway, thanks to Robert for reminding me of this poem!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for jumping in, Frank. And then of course you must consider the very nature and symbolism of the bird archetype, combined with the descriptor “black.” Both carry a great deal of baggage. And if you look at particular species of black birds, especially the corvids – crows and ravens – you’ll see that they appear in mythology as uncanny tricksters, as beings connected to the spirits or the underworld. There’s simply a lot there!


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