Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (excerpts)
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes.
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.
The rest of the poem is here.
Often when I see or hear something especially lovely I think of that first stanza. The silence of reflection after the sight or sound is what allows it to sink in and resonate. On those occasions of monumental change, such as a graduation or major move, I think of stanza nine above. The contrast of what the blackbird sees (continuous progression without boundaries) and what we see (a line at the horizon; progressive boundaries) perfectly illustrates changing perspectives.
I think I first read this poem in college and these two sections have stayed with me. In my mind they seem to be a kind of haiku. When I found the poem in Nancie Atwell’s book Lessons That Change Writers I was delighted to see how she uses it to teach students how to tease apart meaning by looking at the sections separately and then the poem as a whole. She asks her students to list the thirteen ways of looking Stevens uses in his poem. She says,
“What it did for us was lay bare some of the literary, cultural, and historical perspectives that Stevens packed into his remarkable poem. Attempting to name what Stevens did set the stage for students to feel confident about trying “ways” poems of their own. I told kids, “You could do this.”
Atwell and her students list the perspectives Stevens uses to see a blackbird. They include: “The blackbird as a tiny detail in a vast landscape, a simile, a metaphorical math problem, a philosophical proposition, a mystery story, a sermon, a metaphysical geometry problem, a legend , a fairy tale, a pearl of folk wisdom, and a view of something at the end of the world”. The more closely one looks at this poem, the more beauty and sophistication one sees. I am inspired by the poem itself and by the way Atwell uses it to teach and encourage her student poets.
The Poetry Friday round up is here today. Please leave a link to your poetry post here. Then come back later in the day to click on the links to other blogger’s contributions. TGIPF!