Thirteen Ways of Looking at (Life through) a Blackbird

8 Dec

Even as one of Wallace Stevens most well-known poems, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird is often misunderstood. The classic imagery, metaphors, and personification enlighten the oddly interesting numerical structure of the poem; while also advocating many diverging messages to the reader.

From the beginning, Stevens paints a clear picture of the small eye of a blackbird among twenty snowy-mountains. In this way, he explores different characteristics of both himself and the blackbird including his “three minds, like a tree in which there are three blackbirds”. By using this form of imagery and description, he connects the reader to the life of a blackbird, while simultaneously personifying the black bird so it can be more relatable.

Nonetheless, Stevens’ poem is not one only about a blackbird. In the fourth stanza, he  proclaims that a “man and a woman and a blackbird are one”. Though neither creature is “one with each other”, Stevens argues for the necessary and proper unification between man and nature. Besides for unification, he also hints that man and the blackbird should work symbiotically and learn from each other.  In addition, Stevens states that “the blackbird is involved in what (he) knows” and that, in many ways, man has much more to learn from nature than the blackbird has to learn from man.

The Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird is similar to the many ways that a person can look at life. One can approach life with an open mind of curiosity or a closed mind of ignorance. Either way, like a blackbird, there is always more than one way to look at a situation. Likewise, a poem can be interpreted in hundreds of ways until the poet’s intentions are revealed. Even as one of the most famous poems of all time, Stevens words, though religiously repeated and admired for literary perfection, are not, in fact, completely understood.


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