Poem of the Week: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Welcome to “Poem of the Week!”

In my new(ish) job as an adjunct instructor at CO School of Mines, I am teaching a course called Nature and Human Values. It’s a interesting mix of about one million topics–ethical frameworks, writing skills, environmental and engineering dilemmas galore–and this semester, I’ve decided to end each teaching week by sharing a poem with my students, and on my site here. (One of my daydreams/goals for 2023 (can a daydream be a goal?) is to write on my site more.)

My students have been reading this fabulous essay by Jenny Price, Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in LA. This is the poem the essay’s title (and hundreds of other literary works out there) alludes to.

So, you can read Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens at the Poetry Foundation.

Some Thoughts (and Links) About This Poem

As I wandered the Internet, I found this amazing fine art book by Corrine Jones. (I want this.) A catalog description for a cloth reprint of the book notes this:

Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” appeared  originally in 1917 and was subsequently published in his first book, Harmonium,  in 1923.  In a letter, Stevens once wrote that “this group of poems is  not meant to be a collection of epigrams or of ideas, but of sensations.” 

I love the idea of a poem as a collection of sensations. You can feel the sensations as you read the poem: a shadow, a shiver, a breeze…

I also found this essay from Stone Soup (a super cool lit mag whose target audience is children under 13) that contains some fun facts (Wallace Stevens was not a full time writer but an insurance company executive!)(which is such a hopeful fact for young writers who know they also have to make $$) and wonderful moments of analysis–

like the observation that the phrase “twenty snowy mountains” IS the sound of pointy mountains:

TWENty SNOWy MOUNtains. (For my poet readers: those are trochees!)

And, last, I spend a few moments doodling/thinking about the poem on this (blurry) printout:

And: bonus! The image of the blackbird at the top of this post is from the British Library website, which also features a recording of the blackbird’s song. Listen here.

Hope you enjoyed Poem of the Week! Edition 2 will be out next Friday.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for illustrating your study of this often studied poem. Made me consider it in a new way. I’m always wary of the ‘bawds of euphony’ — like hitting a patch of black ice. Like ‘blackbirds flying in green light’… like fear itself.
    Forgive my bird nerdiness but the common blackbird pictured with orange beak and eye ring may look unfamiliar in those details to your readers because it is only very rarely seen here in the US. Common, yes, but in Europe, Australia and India.
    Can’t wait for your next poem!

    Like

    1. oconnorkim says:

      Oh, thanks for pointing that out about the bird, Harriet! It is from a British source, so that’s why, I guess? Now I want to compare blackbirds!

      Like

      1. Yes, this is the “blackbird singing in the dead of night.” Look at that profile — change the coloration and you can see our American Robin, also a limpid singer. The two are cousins, both genus “Turdus.”
        Thanks for this wonderful post bringing Stevens back into my forebrain.

        Like

  2. Sheila Sears says:

    Thank you, Kim, for brightening my morning! Lucky Mines students. Can’t wait for the next installment.

    Like

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