Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

We continue our look at modern masters with a poem by Wallace Stevens (1879 - 1955). Stevens was a poet by temperament and an insurance executive by profession. At home in both worlds (he was part of the Salons of the era and worked far past retirement age), he was still an outsider in both and knew that never the twain shall meet.

Influenced by a wide variety of sources such as the pre-Raphaelites, Keats, 19th century French poets and symbolists, he was, like many modernists enamored of things Oriental. Today's poem has a Zen-like quality to it in the choice of subject matter and it's treatment. Although it is not in the form of haiku, it's sound and feel, and it's short nature-laden scenes are reminiscent of the ancient form. However, written in 1917, the poem is definitely modern and is one of my favorite Stevens poems. Here's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."

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?

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

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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