Poetry Friday: 1923

Wallace Stevens’ Harmonium was published in 1923, his first book, and was a financial disaster, selling less than 100 copies.  He’s not always on top of things, but when Stevens is good, he’s really exceptional.  And so today I offer a poem from Harmonium I have long loved, entitled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (I like some better than others—I’d love to hear from you which sections of the poem appeal most to you):

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.

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2 comments on “Poetry Friday: 1923

  1. graham says:

    I like section V the best, personally. But it’s a crackin’ poem, any way around it.

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      V is definitely good stuff–probably the clearest statement of what Stevens thinks poetry does, at least in this poem. For me, XIII always wins out, though–there is something so evocative in the phrase “it was evening all afternoon”, and the relentlessness of the snow added to that….just wonderful. I think of that stanza every time I see a really good snowfall. Glad you liked the poem!

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